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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 20 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

Harry found himself alone in the lobby of the house, the large majestic portrait of Ernest staring down at him. There was an evil twist to his smile, which he was certain had not been there the night before.

The police had quickly turned up again, Jennings looking extremely pissed off that he was spending even more of his Christmas Day in their company, and they’d all been briefly questioned before he’d declared that there were no suspicious circumstances in regards to Gary’s death.

A simple suicide, the detective had said, with a satisfied smile on his face, though Harry couldn’t help thinking that a suicide was anything but simple.

Reece and Frederick had pulled Gary down and laid him on the bed while Matthew and Harry had ushered everyone else out of the room, the innate instinct to protect people from the inevitable kicking in. Pat had quickly taken hold of Ella and dragged her off to the kitchens in an attempt to calm her down, but also, Harry suspected, to stop him from asking any more questions.

“Please don’t say anything.” Pat had said quietly to him before leaving the room, and in all honesty, Harry realised he was too shocked to say anything.

The rest of them had waited out in the corridor, none of them quite sure what to do. While they blustered, Harry had remembered the card that Detective Jennings had handed to him, pulled it out of his jacket pocket and dialled the number. Jennings hadn’t sounded particularly happy to hear his voice, but had promised to send a team out, straight away.

A silence fell on them all again until Jennifer had broken it by quietly mentioning that she used to work with a man who had killed himself, though he’d used a bullet rather than hanging himself. This had caused Elizabeth to start sobbing loudly while Nicola had turned a ghostly shade of white and begun to shake. Matthew and Frederick had taken their mothers downstairs, a futile attempt to put distance between them and the fact that Gary was lying, far from at peace, on the other side of the door.

The others had quickly drifted off, eventually leaving just Reece and Harry, standing a morbid sentry in the corridor. Reece had stayed out of duty, it was his father lying dead on that bed, Harry had stayed simply because he had nowhere else to go. He was the outsider in this family, the one who had not lost anything, and by being that outsider, he had accepted the responsibility of knowing what to do next. It had been him who had called the police, and it would be him who talked to them once they arrived.

The problem with dead bodies, aside from the obvious, of course, Harry thought, is that it doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. Just seeing a corpse caused you to remember just how short and pointless life could be. Just seeing a corpse reminded you of all the people you’d known that had died.

In a desperate attempt to push the image of his twin’s dead face – his own dead face – from his mind, Harry had started a conversation with Reece.

They’d talked about nothing and everything while they waited for the police to arrive, and now that he had sobered Harry could see that he could actually be quite a nice guy. He felt guilty for what he’d done to him the night before, until he remembered what Reece had nearly done to Ella.

Fiona had appeared, leading Detective Jennings and a group of uniformed officers to Gary and Nicola’s bedroom. Harry had entered with them and began to explain what he knew of what had happened when one of the officers – Turner, Jennings had called him during Harry’s interrogation – discovered a letter.

Some kind of medical team had arrived, presumably, Harry had thought, to just confirm the death and remove the body, and Jennings had gathered them all in the lounge. He’d passed the suicide note to Nicola and explained to the rest of them that Gary had remembered killing his father, that he couldn’t let an innocent man – meaning Robert – go to jail for a crime he hadn’t committed.

As the small army of medical and police officials started to pack up their stuff and leave, Harry took Jennings to one side and asked him if he really thought that Robert was innocent. He’d replied that unless any new evidence came up to incriminate Robert completely, they’d never get it to court – not with the signed confession from a dead body.

He’d left, taking Nicola and Jennifer with him. Nicola had wanted to follow her husband and Jennifer had refused to let her go alone and that was how Harry had found himself alone in the lobby of the house.

He slowly walked back upstairs, hesitating a little before passing Gary and Nicola’s bedroom and heading into his own. Frederick was sat at the desk, facing away from him, tapping quickly away on his laptop. Harry gave a small cough to let him know he was there, but he gave no reaction, he didn’t turn to face him, although the tapping of the keys ceased suddenly.

“It was Matthew, wasn’t it?” He asked eventually, and Harry found himself unable to answer him, but Frederick didn’t need him to, the silence said it all.

After a moment Frederick turned to face him, he had been crying, his eyes were red and puffy, Harry could still see the trail of a tear that had run down his left cheek. He moved over to the foot of the bed and pulled out his case from underneath.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m leaving, Freddie.” Harry said simply, taking some clothes from the cabinet on the side of the bed.

“Anything to do with this?” He asked, handing over two pages of printed paper. Harry only needed to glance at Tricia’s trademark garish red font to realise what it was.

“I meant to tell you, really, I was going to, but then…” Frederick didn’t need him to remind him just what had happened.

“Why him? He’s my cousin, Harry. I mean, I can understand that you wanted revenge, that you – “

“It wasn’t about him being your cousin, hell, it wasn’t even about revenge, it was…”

“What? What was it? Just couldn’t resist a piece of virgin meat?”

“No!” Harry zipped up his case, surprised at just how little he’d managed to unpack since they’d arrived, forgetting that he’d been there less than a day. “It isn’t… it wasn’t like that.”

“Then what? What was it like?”

“I felt sorry for him.”

“So what? A sympathy fuck?”

“We were talking,” Harry said, ignoring his last comment, “he was telling me about how hard it’s been for him, and… yeah, maybe I was a little angry with you – I had every right to be, but the way he spoke to me, the way he looked at me…”

“The way he looked at you? What do you mean?”

“He didn’t look at me and see Harry Hicks, or Vincent’s brother, or an Oscar Nominee, he just saw… Harry.”

“He certainly didn’t see ‘Frederick’s boyfriend’, that’s for sure.”

“Hey! It’s not his fault. Last night… it wasn’t about you.”

Frederick snorted through his nose and turned back to his laptop. Harry sat down on the end of the bed and looked at Tricia’s email. He suddenly felt very foolish, his bags were packed and he was ready to go, but he wouldn’t be picked up until the following morning. Harry checked the clock on the wall, he had more than twelve hours to kill.

“Are you coming back?” Frederick shut down his laptop and turned to face him.

“Are you staying?”

“I kind of have to. I can’t leave mum, not at the moment. Besides someone has to keep Cromley’s running.”

“What are you going to do about the will?”

“I… I hadn’t really thought about it. The way Gregory tells it, I’m in charge of the company until the twelve months is up. If I’m not married by then… well, we’ll deal with that when it happens.”

“You can’t have it all, you know. You can’t keep me, and get married. If you still want me, that is.”

“I know.” Frederick sighed softly. “Stay here with me. We’ll sort something out.”

“I can’t, Freddie. My home is out there, my job.”

“Your home is with me.” He said, sitting next to Harry on the end of the bed, moving Tricia’s email on to the desk. “And you can get roles here, they make British movies too, you know.”

“The will isn’t our only problem.” Harry said after a moment, not really having a comeback. “There are other things.”

“I know.”

“Perhaps we ought to just… take a break from each other for a little bit. In two months, this film will be finished, we’ll have had some time apart, why don’t we just see where we are then.”

“You think that’s a good idea?”

“I don’t know. But it’s the only idea I’ve got.” Frederick reached out and took hold of Harry’s hand and they sat in silence, staring at the dark skies outside.

“So what do we do now?” He asked eventually.

“Now… I pee.” Harry made his way into the en suite. The two months break will do us good, he told himself, I can concentrate on my career for a little while, and Freddie can spend some time with his family. Help get them back on track.

When Harry moved back out into the bedroom, Frederick was standing at the foot of the bed, completely naked.

“Harry,” he said, “I need you.”

“Freddie, what are you doing?”

“I need you.” He repeated. “Inside of me. I want you inside me.”

Harry stared at him in disbelief for a moment, unsure whether he was genuine or not. “I can’t. We don’t have any condoms.”

“We don’t need any. I trust you.”

Harry knew what he was trying to do, a gesture, an apology, a way of making things right between them. He could see he was genuine. Frederick wanted to do this, he wanted to make them work as a couple. But in that moment, with that pledge of trust, Harry knew that he couldn’t trust him.

Had he said that to Robert? I trust you. Who else had he said it to? Who else had he had unprotected sex with?

He knew then that in two months, they’d still be apart, that they wouldn’t get back together. This was it. This was the end.

“No.” Harry said. “Just… lie with me.”

Harry climbed onto the bed, fully clothed, and Frederick lay down next to him. Harry put his arms around his naked chest, and pulled him in tight, he could feel Frederick’s bare behind pressing into his groin, but Harry simply kissed the back of his neck before resting his head on the pillow.

“You don’t want to?”

Harry didn’t answer, he didn’t need to. In that unspoken moment, Frederick too realised that it was over between them.

 

*                *                *

 

When Harry woke up he was alone on the bed. With his right hand he reached behind him and braced himself against the headboard, stretching his whole body into consciousness. As he sat up he became aware of the sound of running water coming from the en-suite, Frederick was having a shower.

He looked at the clock on the wall and groaned. The taxi that Tricia had hired to take him to the army base would be arriving within the next twenty minutes, somehow he’d managed to sleep for over twelve hours straight. Although, he supposed, that wasn’t really surprising considering just how little sleep he’d had the night before.

He pulled himself up and looked in the mirror, his eyes looked sleepy, but otherwise fine, and while his hair could have benefited from the presence of a little gel, he decided it didn’t look too bad. He gently tousled it to check for bits that were sticking up at an awkward angle before casting his gaze down the full length mirror.

He was still wearing the same clothes he’d changed into when he and Frederick had arrived on Christmas Eve. All his clothes were packed away and although he probably would have had time to change, he wanted to get out of the room before Frederick left the shower. In a way, they had already said their goodbyes the night before, anything more this morning would just be… awkward.

His shirt didn’t look too rumpled, despite having slept in it, and his jeans were black so hid any creases that might appear. To his delight – and probably to his mother’s too – Harry had managed to not spill anything down himself either. He may not have been at his most presentable, but he could hardly imagine the army boys complaining. Harry smiled to himself at the thought of all their uniforms, and what lay beneath them, as he quickly sprayed himself with one of Frederick’s deodorants that was sitting on the side.

He grabbed his case and was halfway out of the bedroom door when he suddenly remembered the itinerary Tricia had emailed over. He returned to the desk and picked up the two pages Frederick had printed out. Underneath, was the copy of Ernest’s will that Gregory Lloyd had given to Frederick.

He looked down at it and smiled wryly. Ernest had wanted them to split up and for Frederick to get married, that’s why he’d written the will the way he had. Of course, Harry knew it was nothing personal, it wasn’t him that Ernest wanted rid of, but any boyfriend of Frederick’s, in fact, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Ernest actually quite liked him, in his own way.

If he hadn’t died, Frederick would probably be coming back to Los Angeles with Harry, or at least, joining him back there in a few days. They would have still had their problems, what happened with Robert and Matthew still would have happened, but perhaps if they had been together they might have been able to work through it.

By simply dying, Ernest had managed to put five and a half thousand miles between them, effectively ending any hope they had of keeping their relationship alive.

“Wherever you are, old man, I hope you’re happy.”

He frowned as he looked at the signature on the paper next to his. Pat’s handwriting was scrawled and hard to interpret, but she had quite clearly printed her name underneath. ‘Patricia Cromwell’.

 

*                *                *

 

Harry’s stomach rumbled loudly and he glanced over at the fruit bowl on the side. He’d barely eaten anything since the sandwich he had made himself in the kitchen with Pat on Christmas Eve, and his stomach was trying to remind him. He’d already eaten one apple while he’d been waiting, and was just reaching for a second when he heard a noise from above him.

“How long until your taxi gets here?” Matthew asked, sitting down next to him on the bottom stair.

“Any minute now.”

“He knows, doesn’t he?”

Harry nodded gently, without making eye contact. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t blame you. He knows it’s not your fault.”

“Are you…?”

“We’re over.”

“I’m sorry.”

A dry laugh escaped from Harry’s lips. “We didn’t break up because of you. There were other… issues involved.”

“Right.” There was silence between them, broken only by the rumbling of Harry’s stomach. “I’ve got something for you.”

“Doesn’t happen to be a light lunch does it?” Matthew held up a plastic CD case, and Harry took it, looking at the silver disc inside. “What’s this?”

“I deleted it from my laptop, but I made a recording before I did. It’s your latest movie.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah, I have a copy as well, I was… watching it before. It’s pretty hot.”

“I couldn’t have done it without my co-star.” Harry clutched it to his chest as if it were an award. Matthew blushed a bright red, and Harry’s face turned serious. “I need to destroy this.”

“Right. Can I keep mine?”

“Guard it with your life. Don’t let anyone else see it.”

“Thanks. For everything.”

Harry smiled at the memory of their midnight encounter. “Thank you.”

“Are you never going to come out, then? Are you just going to carry on pretending for the rest of your life?”

“When I come out, I still won’t want anyone to see this. You’re under age, after all.”

“You said when.”

Matthew smiled at him, and Harry smiled back. “I did, didn’t I?”

He moved over to the fruit bowl, plucked a large red apple from the assorted pile and took a bite out of it, the skin giving a satisfying crunch against his teeth. He turned back around to find Matthew staring up at the family tree on the wall

“Matthew, about your dad, I’m so sorry, it must be difficult for you, I –” He stopped when he realised Matthew was smirking slightly.

“I wasn’t even thinking about dad, I was just trying to figure out what life would be like without him.” He nodded his head to the large portrait of Ernest, sadness permeating the features on his face.

“But,” Harry frowned, “he… he was a tyrant. He hated everything that you are, everything that we are. I thought you hated him.”

“I did. But I loved him too. He was a stubborn, prejudiced old bastard, but he did love us. He was more of a father to us than dad ever was.”

Harry shook his head in disbelief, amazed at the love this family still held for the man. “Better the devil you know and all that, eh?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Matthew sniffed and tears started to roll down his face.

“Hey, hey, hey, don’t cry.” Harry instinctively reached into his pocket for a tissue and pulled out a handkerchief.

“Thanks.” He wiped his tears with the cloth and went to hand it back to Harry, before stopping with a frown. “Did you cut yourself?”

“No. Why?”

“There’s blood on your handkerchief.” He shrugged, passing it back to him.

Harry looked down at the now dark brown smears on the white fabric, and then at the initials ‘RF’ stitched in the corner. Something suddenly clicked in his brain and Harry started to understand just what had really happened two nights before.

“I can’t believe I didn’t realise before.” He murmured quietly.

He stared up at the portrait of Ernest once more, his eyes focusing on the spot where Raymond’s name had been removed from the fabric. He dropped the apple back onto the table and rushed toward the spiral staircase at the back of the hall.

“Where are you going?” Matthew asked.

“Just going to grab something to eat,” Harry called behind him as he descended, “tell the taxi to wait!”

 

*                *                *

 

She was sat at the table, staring intensely into the centre of the wooden surface. She was staring so hard she didn’t notice Harry’s entrance, and in that moment he realised he didn’t know quite what he was going to say.

“Hi, Ella.” He smiled softly, and sat down in a chair at the opposite end of the table to her.

“Harry, hi. Did you need me to get you anything?” She went to get up, but he raised a hand to stop her.

“No, actually. I just wanted to check on you, make sure you were ok.”

“It’s early.” She said, checking her watch.

“I’ve got a plane to catch.”

“You’re leaving?” She asked, looking him in the eye for the first time since he’d entered. Harry noticed that her eyes were bloodshot, the skin around them red and worn.

“I’m afraid so.” For a moment, nothing was said. “What’s your excuse?”

“Sorry?”

“For being up so early?”

“Oh… I, I couldn’t sleep.”

“I guess not, it must have been quite a shock finding him like that. Gary, I mean.”

“It was… it just brought up some bad memories, that’s all.” Ella’s gaze returned downwards, focusing on her hands, clasped together on the table.

“It’s not easy, trying to get that image out of your head,” Harry said, watching her closely as he spoke, “believe me. I found my mum’s body, when I was eighteen. She… it’s not the same, she didn’t kill herself, she’d been ill. For the longest time, she’d been ill, so that we were ready for it. Still… that Sunday morning, waking up to find her lying at the bottom of the stairs… it was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen.”

“My dad killed himself… he’d been ill, but he… I found him, too.”

“I’d thought as much.” She looked at him curiously. “Something you said earlier, didn’t seem like you were upset about another death, more another death in that way. You said to Pat, ‘why again? Why is it happening again?’”

“Did I? I can barely remember, it all seems like a blur to me still.”

While outwardly, his face remained sombre, compassionate, inwardly, he smiled. He’d found his way in, only now, Harry felt almost guilty for going down this route. If his suspicions were correct, though…

“What was your dad’s name?” He went for it.

“Raymond.” She smiled affectionately, as Harry’s heart sank.

“That’s quite a coincidence, Ernest had a son called Raymond.”

Ella looked at him, an air of innocence around her. “Did he?”

“Yeah, you must have heard about it, it all came out on Christmas Eve, he had this son, years ago. They had a big falling out over money or something, and they haven’t spoken to each other in about forty years. No one knows what happened to him. Nobody told you?”

“A lot’s happened since then,” Ella shrugged, “I’ve kind of been in a daze, since it happened, just sort of… drifting. Besides, I’m only the maid.”

“Oh, well, Pat knew, she’s known for years.”

“Yeah, well, she’s been here for a long time, she’s practically family.”

Harry laughed slightly. “It’s funny you should say that, actually, the other night, Ernest asked us to sign as witnesses for his will, and Pat… she signed her name as ‘Cromwell’.”

“I guess she’s been here so long, she’s forgotten she’s not a Cromwell.” She laughed nervously, before stopping abruptly. “What time’s your flight?”

“Oh, I’ve got a while yet,” he replied, “besides, I think I’ve got something of yours, I wanted to give it back.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, a handkerchief, I found it out in the hallway, I thought I saw you with it when Freddie and I first arrived. Little white one, the initials ‘R.F.’ stitched in the corner.”

Ella smiled and nodded, a tear welling in one eye, “Yeah. It used to be daddy’s.”

Harry stood up and walked around to her end of the table, dropping it in front of her as he did. While she picked it up and looked at the blood stains smeared across it, Harry moved over to a counter. A window in the wall looked out at the side of the mansion, the gravel of the pathway level with the bottom of the glass, and Harry stared at his own face, reflecting in it.

“It needs cleaning, or something, there’s some nasty stains on it.”

“Yeah… I, umm, I… I get nosebleeds all the time.”

“Right.” He nodded. In the glass pane of the window, he could see Ella’s reflection, almost enveloped by the darkness of the outside world. “You know what’s funny, Ella?”

“What’s that?”

“Your mum, Pat,” Ella turned to face him sharply, she clearly did have patchy memories from when she discovered Gary’s body, “marrying a man named Raymond, and then getting her own name mixed up with Cromwell.”

“Harry, I – ”

“If I was to just… let my imagination run wild for a moment,” He said, turning around so that he was now facing her, “I might think that Raymond Cromwell married your mother. That would explain why Pat uses Cromwell… but why would your father change his name? Why change it to French?”

She was quiet for a moment, simply staring at him with a look of horror.

“Ernest didn’t know that Raymond and I had married.” Harry turned to see Pat stood behind him, wearing a thick dressing gown. “After Doreen died, Ernest refused to let Raymond see the children, wouldn’t let him anywhere near them. I felt bad for him. I used to visit him, keep him up to date with news of them, so he didn’t feel left out. I wanted to maintain the link between them, so it wouldn’t be too late if Ernest changed his mind.”

“But he never did?”

“No. They were both as stubborn as each other, anyway. I fell in love with him – with Raymond – and we got married.”

“But you didn’t tell Ernest?”

“I was afraid Ernest would fire me, that he’d get rid of me if he found out. If he did, Raymond would have no link left to his family.”

“When did he find out?”

“When I realised I was pregnant, I left my job without Ernest ever knowing. I didn’t want him to know, now we had our own child, Raymond and I would have our own family to look after. We would concentrate on her.” Pat sat down at the table and took hold of her daughter’s hand. “I still kept in touch with the children, though of course they were hardly children by that point. Elizabeth wrote to me, inviting me to her wedding and Raymond found the letter.

“He wanted to go, said he had to be at his sister’s wedding, so we left Ella with a friend, she was only a baby, and travelled to the hotel. Ernest spotted us and he started arguing with Raymond in the bar. Michael witnessed it, figured it out – most of it, anyway, he didn’t realise Ray and I were married.”

“But Ernest did?” Harry frowned, confused. “And you went back to work for him?”

“I told him it was over, Ray didn’t want me to, he’d finally had enough. He was ready to cut all ties, even changed his name – and Ella’s so that he wouldn’t ever be associated with the Cromwell’s again.”

“But you kept the name?”

“I knew we needed to stay part of that family, and he seemed to enjoy writing my pay cheque out to Patricia Cromwell.” She shared a long, searching look with her daughter. “I didn’t want you to never know your family, I thought perhaps I might be able to convince Ernest to see sense, to speak to his son again.”

“But you still didn’t tell him about Ella?” Harry asked, and Pat turned back to face him.

“No. It was easier at first not to – I didn’t know what he would do. Then as time went on, it became harder and harder to find the right moment, and so I just never did.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“What?”

“I’ll admit I didn’t know Ernest very long, but finding out he had a grandchild, surely that would be the one thing that would unite them, unless – “

Harry cut himself short, as a horrible, impossible – but yet, so perfectly shaped thought flashed through his head. Ella sobbed loudly and Pat pulled her into a large comforting hug.

He buried the thought away and made a show of looking at the clock on the wall. “Perhaps I ought to be going after all. There’s just one thing that’s still confusing me, though, Ella.”

“What’s that?” She asked, pulling herself away from her mother.

“The other night, the night Ernest was murdered, I came in here,” Harry gestured around the kitchen, “to get a sandwich. You left to have a shower, I even heard you turn it on, the water coming from the boiler or something. But then, later, when everyone heard Pat’s scream, you’d only just got out the shower, you were dripping wet.”

“So?”

“So… it was over two hours between those two moments. Either you had a very long shower or… or you felt the need to have another one.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Ella… did you kill your grandfather?”

Ella rose and looked me in the eye. “No, Harry, I did not kill my grandfather.”

Pat suddenly stood up, and moved away from Ella. That horrible thought surfaced again.

“What about your father? Did you kill him?”

“Don’t answer him.” Harry froze as he felt something cold and hard against his head. Pat was pointing a gun at him.

 

The next chapter will be published on Sunday 5th June

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 19

 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

French House, Kent

April, 2001

 

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

“You fell asleep at the table again.”

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

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

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

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

“You want some breakfast?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright?” She asked.

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

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

“How many sausages do you want?”

“Two, please. Juice?”

“Of course.” He winked at his daughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve found a job?”

“No.”

“The book?” Ella asked sceptically.

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

“Dad, I can’t, I’ve got to work.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How much longer is it going to be?”

“Another five, maybe ten minutes.”

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

“Ella.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Umm, ok. That’d be good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“O… ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anytime, my dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ella, get out of here!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” Mr Reid asked.

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

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

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

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

June, 2001

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So? It’s his grandfather’s house.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not it at all, is it?”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No! You can’t!”

“Give me one good reason why not!”

“Because he’s your cousin!”

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

“He’s what?”

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 18

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s gone then.”

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

“Yeah.”

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

“What if he’s innocent?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you lied as well?”

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

“Right.”

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

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

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

“And the watch.”

“The watch?”

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

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

“Have you ever seen that watch before?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then his phone rang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want, Matthew?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You forgot?”

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

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

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

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

“When did you remember?”

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

“It showed us having sex.”

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

“At least I’d still have a career.”

“Bollocks.”

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

“Why didn’t you pack your laptop?”

“What?”

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

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

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

“No, it wasn’t.”

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

“So?”

“What were you doing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

“You said you were sixteen.”

“I will be in a week.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Which stopped you from being arrested for murder!”

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

“Because I love you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You used me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, yeah, I know.”

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

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

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

“Reece?” Harry asked timidly.

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

“Ok, I wasn’t encouraging her,  I – “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Harry, I –“

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

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

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

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

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

“Al…always.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never.”

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

“Yeah.”

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

“Yes.”

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

“What?”

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

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

“What?”

“Because I put it there.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You just said he had it coming.”

“Robert! Robert had it coming!”

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

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

“What’s this got to do with – “

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

“So you framed him?”

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

“I know. I know.”

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“So what did you do?”

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

“Who was it?”

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

“Relief?”

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

“So, what did you do?”

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

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

“I knew it was him, I just knew.”

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

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

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

“It is.”

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

“Who?”

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

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

“I’ve been an idiot.”

“Yeah, you have.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Freddie, I – “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why again, mum?

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

 

 

 The next chapter will be published on Sunday 22nd May

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 17

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

 

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Christmas Eve, 2010

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And then?”

“Then?”

“Are you going to kill granddad?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, how?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it’s simple isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Robert.”

“What about him?”

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

“Excuse me?”

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

“And why is that a problem?”

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

“Help him? With what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Barkeep, I need a drink.”

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

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

“Huh?”

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

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

“Attacked you? Why?” Jennifer asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe you’re right.”

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

“I’m fourteen.”

“Exactly. Which is why there should be no reason for you to need it, but if you do find Reece… I don’t think he’s in any position to remember it himself. Or to take no for an answer.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“You won’t need this with Frederick?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

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

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

“I guess. I was looking for Harry.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not a kid. Not anymore.”

“Sure you’re not.”

“Try me.”

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

“Right, so what’s the problem?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Poker?”

“It’s what they want to do.”

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

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

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

“More than you think.”

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

“She invites him back for coffee.”

“Coffee?”

“It’s code for sex.”

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

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

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

“Well, what do you suggest then?”

“They don’t have sex.”

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

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

“Crying?”

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

“And?”

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

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

“What do you know about sex, anyway?”

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

“Robert?”

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

“What was it?”

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

“Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone stopped suddenly and stared at her.

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

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

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

 

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

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 16

 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

 

 

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

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

“What? When did this happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s still your grandson, mum.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rubbish.” Robert scoffed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Stabbed a hole?”

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

“He wasn’t shot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re letting us go?” Robert asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“No crusts. I don’t like crusts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just how exactly does all this work?”

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

“How does all what work?”

“This whole marrying someone within twelve months thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

“He was very… quiet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m so sorry, Lizzy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad?”

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

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

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

“I… I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reece shrugged. “Maybe he is.”

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

“He had the knife with him.”

“What knife?”

“The letter opener.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I dumped it in the fish tank.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A money grabbing whore?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want me to marry my own nephew?”

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

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

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

“What about the baby part?”

“We can work something out.”

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

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

“How much did you hear?” Robert growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before Harry could say anything, Frederick had stepped forward.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The next chapter will be published on Sunday 8th May 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 15

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Christmas Eve, 2010

 

“Dickhead.” Reece muttered to himself, though he wasn’t sure whether he was cursing Harry, his grandfather or himself.

Both Harry and Ernest had accused him of trying to rape Ella, and he didn’t know why. Reece thought that he and Ella had always got on well, and when he’d found her in the wash room, bent over the side, scrubbing at that jacket, he had realised just how attractive she was.

He’d flirted with her a little bit, and then after receiving all the right signals, he’d made his move. She had screamed, he admitted, but in surprise. In pleasure. She obviously hadn’t expected him to take her there and then. Ernest and Harry had both misinterpreted it completely and ripped into him.

His Granddad had dismissed him with a look of disgust, but Harry on the other hand had come onto him, tried to rape him.

“It’s because you’re so attractive,” he looked at his own reflection and nodded sagely, “and gorgeous. He couldn’t help it… he was overcome.”

Reece laughed and took a swig from the bottle of vodka he’d smuggled from his downstairs. He carefully sat down on the edge of the bath in the en-suite. After his brief interlude with Ella, and despite both the encounter with Harry and the copious amounts of alcohol swimming in his bloodstream, Reece was horny.

That was one thing that Reece had always been proud of. No matter how much he drank, he was always ready for action, and had never failed to disappoint – or so he thought. One drunken night in the Student Union bar a few weeks before, Reece had tried using it as a chat-up line. Since it had earned him a fairly severe slap from his roommate’s girlfriend, he’d decided not to use it again.

“It’s probably more of a second date admission.” He told the mirror, and then laughed loudly at the thought of ever going on a second date with anyone.

At that moment, he heard a noise from the bedroom. Reece shushed his reflection, and then leant against the door with a loud thump in an attempt to listen to the new arrival.

“Hello?” Her voice asked, uncertain of what she had heard, and indeed even if she had heard it.

Reece jumped back from the door and looked at himself in the full length mirror. His eyes had started to go a little bloodshot from his contact lenses – he should have taken them out two hours before – but other than that, his face was as handsome as ever. The stubble that had formed during the day since his last shave, only added to his attractiveness, he told himself. Made him look like a bad boy.

At that thought, he laughed again.

He looked down at his smooth bare chest, lightly defined to made it appear natural, though it took several trips to a beauty parlour to wax the stubble from him. He had a cream towel knotted at his waist, his proudest asset hanging loose underneath so as to cause a bulge, enough of one to catch the eye, but not one that revealed too much.

Reece knew seduction. He knew how to talk to a girl, he knew how to walk, how to stand so as to make himself appear more attractive. He knew which was his good side and always arranged for any potential mates to see that side as much as possible. Whenever his numerous charms failed it was because the girl was a lesbian, and when they succeeded, well, it was… sheer animal magnetism.

Or so he thought. What he had never realised was that more often than not, it was him that was seduced. His best side was whichever side of his trousers his wallet happened to be, and the girls that weren’t after his money, were simply curious.

One night, while he had still been in school, Reece had realised the ‘advantage’ he had over other men, and had hit on a plan to press it. He arranged for all of the boys in his class to come over for a party one night, and in the small hours of the morning, once the dozen or so boys had fallen asleep, he had left his bedroom, carefully making sure that he trod on the fingers of Taylor Jeffries on the way out.

Taylor was not usually one of his friends, he was openly gay and fairly camp, but he got on well enough with everyone in the group for it not to seem too odd that he’d received an invite. Taylor had woken when he felt the pain in his fingers, just in time to see someone disappear round the door.

He heard noises coming from down the hall, and after ten minutes or so, when the figure hadn’t returned, Taylor suspected that someone had smuggled in some more alcohol and wasn’t sharing it with the group. He made his way along the hall to where the light spilt out through the open doorway of the bathroom.

Once the wide-eyed Taylor had reluctantly returned to the bedroom, Reece had finished the job, pulled up his boxer shorts and returned his father’s Lesbian Lust magazine back to its usual hiding spot.

At 9am on the following Monday, Taylor started whispering to his girlfriends. At 4:02pm on Wednesday, a group of female teachers were talking about what Taylor had seen. And at 7:18 pm on Friday evening, Reece had rolled off of Vanessa Daniels, no longer a virgin.

The door to the en suite opened, and Jennifer entered, just dressed in her underwear. She jumped back in surprise as she saw Reece stood before her, a vodka bottle, hanging almost forgotten, from his left hand.

“What are you doing in here?” She asked as she grabbed a towel to cover herself up.

“I thought maybe we could swap some knitting patterns,” Reece smirked, “maybe play a hand or two of Bridge. What do you think?”

“I think that maybe you’re deluding yourself. Out.”

“Oh, come on, I know you’re upset, it’s understandable, you haven’t seen me for three months. But we can make up for that now.”

“Reece, listen to me,” Jennifer said as she started to adjust her make-up in the mirror above the sink, “I don’t want you, I haven’t missed you, and we won’t be making up for anything.”

Reece stared at her for a moment, until an expression of realisation spread across his face. “Oh…” he said with a smile, “you’ve forgotten.”

“Forgotten?”

“This.” Reece let the towel around his waist drop to the floor.

Jennifer stopped applying her mascara long enough to roll her eyes before continuing. “Good Lord, spare me men with big dicks.”

“Excuse me?”

“Some men think that just because they turn up with the equipment, that they can be excused from the game. Your uncle was just the same.”

“I didn’t need to know that.” Reece gave a small smile as he pressed himself up against Jennifer. “Are you telling me you haven’t missed this?”

“Missed it? It was like sitting on a piston, you didn’t do anything, Reece.”

“If it was that bad, if there was nothing there, then how come you kept coming back for more?”

Jennifer laughed as she moved out of the en suite into her bedroom. “Are you telling me you’re that naïve?” She asked as she slipped a brightly coloured dress over her head. “Zip me up.”

Reece stepped forward, still nude and fingered her zip carefully for a moment before pulling it up to her neck. “Oh come on, you enjoyed it.”

“Reece, I slept with you for one reason and one reason only.” She stepped over to her dresser and fished through a small wooden jewellery box. She glanced in the mirror to see Reece gripping his groin and grinning.

“I told you, you’d missed it.”

“I thought that your grandfather might make you his heir,” Jennifer said plainly as she clipped a small earring on to each ear, “I needed to make sure I was going to be on your good side. I think you’ll agree with me, when I say that after tonight, it’s clear that sleeping with you is going to get me nothing more than a mild case of the clap.”

“You were using me?”

“Of course I was using you. Every woman you’ve ever slept with was using you, Reece, just to see what it’s like. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date.”

“A date?”

“Well, not exactly, a date. But like I said earlier, I need to be on the good side of Ernest’s heir.” Jennifer moved to leave her bedroom, but paused at the door and glanced down at Reece’s crotch. “And, by the way… I’ve had bigger.”

 

*                *                *

 

“Just put it away.”

Gary stared across at his wife and with a defiant cock of his left eyebrow, unscrewed the lid from the top of the vodka bottle and took a swig.

“I don’t have to do anything you tell me.” He said, foregoing the theatrical grimace he usually reserved to suggest he wasn’t used to the drink. “You never do anything I tell you to do.”

Nicola was sat up in bed, filling in the answers to a crossword in her magazine. “Rubbish.”

“No, it’s true. I keep telling you to defend me against my father, but you never do.”

“I do!” Nicola argued, without tearing her eyes away from twenty three across.

“You defend the other two, those sons of yours, but never me!”

“They’re your sons too, Gary. God, you’re not jealous of them?”

Gary frowned and said nothing before sighing loudly and sitting himself down on the end of the bed. Nicola put her magazine down and crawled over to him. As she spoke, she gently rubbed his shoulders.

“Listen to me, you have nothing to be jealous about, ok? I love you, just as much as I love them. More.”

“But you always defend them,” Gary moaned, “he picks on them, you take up arms, he picks on me, you sit back and watch him.”

“I just… I don’t want to upset him, Gary, we’ve got nowhere else to go. He’s the only person putting a roof over our heads at the moment.”

“It’s because you agree with him, isn’t it?”

“What? No.”

“You think I’m inadequate… that I’m less than a man. That I can’t provide for my family. We can leave!” Gary jumped up with a sudden enthusiasm.

“What? We can’t leave, it’s Christmas Eve.”

“No, we can leave, get a place of our own.”

Nicola’s shoulders dropped in despair. “Gary, we had a place of our own, they kicked us out.”

“I wondered how long it would take you to bring that up.”

“Bring it up? It’s not as if it’s entirely irrelevant! The only reason we’re here is because you got absolutely smashed out of your brain and beat up the pool boy!”

“No, the reason we’re here, is because you found an opportunity to kick me when I was down. It wasn’t enough that, I was up on assault charges, no, you grabbed the opportunity to come running to my father, to remind him of just what a miserable wreck I am, and give him the chance to save the day again!”

“Now, just wait one second! The only reason I did that was because the pool boy agreed to drop the charges if we moved out! If it wasn’t for me running to your father, you’d be rotting in a jail somewhere right now, being used as somebody’s bitch!”

“You didn’t have to go running to him! We could have gone somewhere else, gotten another apartment somewhere!”

“No we couldn’t, Gary!” Nicola screamed, climbing out of bed. “We didn’t have any money coming in, we were four months behind with the payments on that place as it was! And yeah, before you ask, your father paid those bills off. You don’t have a job!

“Fine.” Gary took another swig. “That’s fine. I’ll get a job. You want me to get job, I’ll get a job, that’s what I’ll do.”

“You’re a violent alcoholic with next to no work experience, nobody’s going to employ you, Gary.”

“I can stop drinking anytime I like, I’ll stop. And… you’re forgetting I was in that job for nearly twenty years. That’s not nothing, it counts for something.”

“It was the only job you’ve ever had, and you were fired from it by your own father! Nobody’s going to employ you, Gary!”

“He will.” Gary marched over toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Nicola pushed shut the door as he opened it.

“I’ve got a job interview.”

“Not at this time of night, and not the state you’re in! You’ll probably get us all thrown out on the streets on Christmas Day! Some provider you are!”

“Let me go!” He pushed her away from him, yanked open the door and started to march down the corridor.

“Gary! Gary, if you don’t come back in here now, you can forget about coming back at all!”

Gary stopped and slowly turned to face his wife. She was glowering angrily at him, but behind her, on the dresser he could see his half consumed bottle of vodka. He wanted to go back for it, but she would think she had won and shut him in. He turned away from her and continued to walk, as he did, he heard the door slam behind him.

 

*                *                *

 

Although he wasn’t sure why, Gary instinctively hid himself as he saw his father step out of his office. He said something that Gary couldn’t hear to his lawyer, and the pair of them moved up the corridor towards the kitchen.

He waited for a moment to make sure they were out of the way and then slipped across the corridor and entered the study. He poured himself a drink and sat in a small armchair in the corner of the room, in front of a tall bookcase.

Since his father had not turned the lights off, or locked the door, Gary was sure that he would be returning. He would simply wait here until he did, and then they’d be able to have a civil conversation about Gary returning to work.

He downed the remainder of his drink and moved to pour some more from the bottle, only to discover it was empty. Gary frowned and looked around the room. Ernest had left two whiskey glasses out, one of which was now in Gary’s hand, but there weren’t any bottles around anywhere.

He wandered over to the desk and sat himself down in the black leather chair behind it. He tried a few drawers, but they were locked. As he bent down to try the bottom drawer, he noticed a bottle, completely full, set against the side of the desk. He grinned triumphantly and set both his glass and the bottle on the table.

Not taking the time to either read the label or pour into the glass, Gary took a large swig, straight from the bottle.

“Ah, Scotch!” He licked his lips, not feeling the fluid burn his throat on its way down, and set the bottle back on the table. As he did, he noticed the papers in front of him, and started to read. He was just beginning to decipher the legal jargon when he heard some noises outside in the corridor.

Again, not completely sure why, but acting on drunken instinct, Gary grabbed the bottle of Scotch and darted across the room. As he shut himself in Ernest’s large walk in closet, and settled himself down between the suits hung up inside, he heard a small group enter the office.

“I still don’t get why I had to be here. It’s nothing to do with me.” Gary didn’t recognise the voice of the man speaking.

“I don’t like it much either, Harry, but I already told you, I don’t have an awful lot of choice.” Ah, the poof, Gary told himself, before quietly remembering his son was now one of them. He quietly shifted himself so that he could through the gap where the two doors of the closet met. He could see his father sit in the chair behind his desk, both Harry and the lawyer were there as well as Pat, who was slowly hobbling over to the armchair in the corner.

“I needed two people to sign as witnesses to my will,” Ernest continued, “I wanted Pat and Ella, but since you were there and Ella wasn’t, you’ll have to do.”

“Can’t it wait?” Pat asked. “I mean, if you want Ella that much, she’s only having a shower, she won’t be long.”

“No, best leave her alone.” Ernest sighed loudly. “I just want to get it out of the way, my head’s had enough for tonight, I just want to settle down with a good book, a nice glass of scotch and settle down to a long night’s sleep. Gregory, if you will.”

“Ah, right of course,” Gregory gathered up some of the papers that were spread across the desk, “if I could just get you both to sign at the bottom of each of the two copies here, that’s it.”

Gary saw Pat quickly sign both piece of paper and then lean back in her chair and put her foot up on the small table in front of her. Gregory handed the pieces of paper to Harry.

“Come on, what are you waiting for, boy?”

“Well, you’ve got to give me to time to read it.”

“You don’t need to read it, just sign it.”

“I’ve got to read it, Ernest, if I’m going to be witness to it,” Gary could hear a playful lilt in Harry’s voice as he moved back from the door long enough to take another swig from the bottle, “I mean, that’s the whole point of a witness, isn’t it, Mr Lloyd?”

“Well, I guess you could put it like that.” The lawyer rubbed his eyes, red from exhaustion. “Although, in this case, you don’t need to – ”

“Of course I need to.” Harry looked across at Ernest. “I’m just looking out for your best interests. I mean, I’d look pretty silly if I signed this piece of paper and your lawyer here had conned you into leaving everything to him.”

“Don’t be daft, I’m not leaving anything to him.”

“Who then?”

There was silence for a moment as Ernest studied Harry intently. “Frederick.”

“What?” Pat sat up suddenly. “I thought you were leaving everything to that Robert fellow?”

“You didn’t hear, Pat?” Harry asked. “Robert –”

“And I had a falling out. And now I’ve changed my mind and leaving it all to Frederick, so will you just sign the damn paper and get out of my office?”

Gary heard the slight scratch of a fountain pen on paper and then saw Harry pass the papers over to Gregory.

“Is that everything?” Pat rasped. “Can we go now?”

“Make my day.” Ernest gestured to the door and Pat climbed out of her chair.

“I’m going to make my way up to bed as well.” Gregory opened the door to the office for Pat. “Are you sure you don’t mind me staying the night?”

“Oh, no, of course not, Gregory, you’ve done a big favour for me tonight, coming all the way out here, at his hour as well.”

Gregory nodded to Ernest and to Harry and left the room. Harry made his way over to the door, but rather than leave, he simply closed the door, and turned back to face Ernest.

“What made you change your mind?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your will.” Harry said, as he dropped into the seat opposite the desk. “What made you change your mind?”

“You heard what that man’s been doing to my family. What he did to Victoria… what he did with Freddie.”

“Not about Robert. Why did you decide to leave it all to Freddie?” Harry asked, and Gary could just about see him pick up a letter opener from the desk and start to fiddle with it. “I mean, he’s gay, and he was there with Robert. In your office. On your desk.”

“Frederick’s bisexual. And he doesn’t pretend to be anything but. Frederick… enjoys sleeping with men, he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. It repulses Robert, but he still does it, just to get ahead.”

“So you went for the lesser of two evils?”

“Frederick is a good businessman. If he could just forget about this whole writing thing and…”

“And stop fucking men?”

“Then there’d be no question in my mind.”

“Look, you might be able to stop him from being a writer, by leaving him the business, but you can’t stop him from being who he is.”

“Maybe not, but I can help steer him in the right direction.”

“How do you mean?”

Gary saw a familiar, triumphant smile spread across his father’s face. “Frederick only gets the business if he gets married. To a woman, before you start mentioning any of those hokey ‘blessings’”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. But, any man can get married to any woman, that’s not really going to turn him straight.”

“That’s why he has to remain married for at least two years and father at least one child.”

Harry said nothing as the old man grinned wickedly at him.

“Why do you hate us so much?” Harry asked finally.

“Us?”

“Gays. Homosexuals. We don’t negatively affect your way of life, in fact, we practically run your shops for you.”

“It’s wrong.”

“It’s more than that. Come on, what is it? You get chased by one as a child?”

“I’m not afraid of gay people.”

“Of course you are, that’s what homophobia is, Ern. Why do you hate us so much?”

“Because you destroy people’s families!” Ernest shook suddenly and gripped the edge of the desk for support. Gary stared at him through the crack in the door as he turned to face the window.

“How do you figure that?”

Ernest turned back to face Harry for a moment, before moving over towards the closet. Gary held his breath as he heard his father remove a picture from the wall to the left of his hiding place. He let out a small sigh as he heard the steel safe being opened. He watched Ernest empty the contents of a box onto the desk. He saw his father’s gun fall out, as well, as a smaller, gold object. Ernest picked up the smaller item and handed it to Harry.

“A broken watch?” Harry asked. “So what?”

“It’s my father’s watch. Look at the time.”

“Twenty past four. I don’t get it.”

“I threw that watch at the wall, at the exact moment my baby brother died in my arms.”

Gary paused, the bottle of scotch halfway to his lips, his father had never mentioned having a brother before.

Harry put the watch down on the desk. “Mr Cromwell, I’m sorry, I…”

“It was sixty years ago, you don’t need to be sorry.”

“So you’re not looking for sympathy, fine, I won’t give it. But why bring it up? Killed by a knife wielding poof, was he?”

“He died in my arms.” Gary watched his father’s bottom lip quiver as he avoided eye contact with Harry and simply stared at he pocket watch. “A bomb flattened our neighbour’s house. There weren’t many houses still standing, but ours was. Anyway, I didn’t wake up when the air sirens went, I never did, for some reason, I slept through them. My mother would go and get the baby, and then came in to my room and woke me up. That night, she didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“She was already dead. She’d been next door, having sex with… with that woman.” Ernest glanced across at Harry, but Harry kept his head bowed. “If she hadn’t been… what she was, she would have lived. If she had been at home instead of with her, she would have woken me up, they’d both have lived. But she didn’t, and he died, in that dingy, wet little shelter”

Silence filled the room and lingered in the air for a few minutes. “I think that perhaps you ought to leave, Harry. I’d like to be on my own.”

Harry dropped the letter opener on the desk, pulled himself up and moved over to the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob. “You know, Ernest, I do feel sorry for you really, I do. But you can’t blame what happened on your mum being gay. And you certainly can’t punish Frederick and Matthew for it either. It makes no difference whether your mum was with a woman or a man that night. You’re just a bigot, you can’t just drag up traumatic childhood experiences to justify your prejudices. The sooner you realise that, the sooner you’ll be able to get over it.”

Gary heard the door open, and then softly close as Harry left the room. Ernest sat in his chair for a moment before turning and looking directly at the closet door. “You can come out now, Gary.”

Gary pulled himself to his feet and bashfully stepped out of the closet. “How did you – ”

“You’re not a quiet drunk, Gary. Besides, you’re the only other person in this house that drinks Scotch.” Ernest snatched the bottle away from his son.

“You had a brother?”

“That’s none of your business.” Ernest snapped, as he liberally poured the drink into a glass.

“I think it is.” Gary moved over to the desk and looked down at the broken pocket watch, lying next to the gold-plated letter opener.

“What do you want, Gary?”

“A job.”

Ernest started to laugh loudly, only pausing to take a gulp of his drink. Gary picked up the letter opener and swivelled it on it’s point on the desk as Ernest’s laughter trailed off. “Oh, thank you for that son, it was just what I needed. Now… get out.”

 

*                *                *

 

Reece had woken with a start as Pat’s scream rang throughout the house. He’d quickly pulled on some clothes and run downstairs to find Pat, Harry, Matthew, Victoria and his mother all gathered around outside the door to his grandfather’s office.

“What’s happened?”

“Where’s your father?”

“I don’t know, I thought he was in with you. What’s going on?”

“Oh, honey,” Pat whispered, holding her hand to her mouth, “I’m so sorry, there’s been an accident.”

“What kind of accident?”

Reece turned around to find Ella had entered the corridor, wearing a dressing gown and towelling her hair.

“Oh, Ella, darling,” Nicola pounced on her, “have you seen Gary?”

“Umm, no, sorry. I just got out the shower.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it an accident, Pat.” Matthew said, and Reece noticed for the first time just how pale his younger brother looked.

“Will someone just tell me what’s going on?”

Harry folded his arms. “It’s Ernest. He’s been killed.”

“Killed?”

“Reece, honey,” Nicola rubbed her son’s arm, “will you please go and find your dad, he should be here.”

“Right.” Reece nodded, and he quickly turned and ran down the corridor, nearly barrelling straight into Elizabeth and Robert as they hurried into the corridor. As he reached the lobby, he realised he had no idea where his father might be.

“Dad!” He shouted. “Dad! Where are you?”

No answer came and Reece resigned himself to looking in every room in the house. He quickly pulled open the door to the drinks room, but it was empty, as was the lounge opposite it. He dived into the dining room so quickly, that he almost missed his father slumped, snoring, against the wall.

“Dad! Dad, wake up, it’s – ” He stopped as he noticed the small gold knife in his father’s left hand. He remembered the way his father had been stumbling around drunk, a few hours before, drunker even than Reece had been. Could he have murdered his own father? No, he wouldn’t do that. But then Reece remembered the drunken arguments and the various threats that Gary had levelled his father ever since they’d moved in with him.

Reece slowly slid the knife from his father’s grasp and dropped it into the fish tank on the cabinet next to them. As the knife slowly sank to the bottom, and the fish darted out of it’s way, Reece shook his father awake.

“Dad… dad, I’ve got some bad news.”

 

The next chapter of Memories of a Murder will be published on Sunday 1st May

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 14

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

DI Jennings was sat on a small fold out stool opposite Harry, he was using a flowery print ironing board as a desk to lean on as he wrote. If it wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be funny.

Several hours had passed since he and Matthew had discovered Ernest’s dead body, Harry wasn’t sure exactly how many, he never wore a watch and there was no clock in the room they’d locked him in.

When the police had finally arrived, they’d taken his mobile from him and shoved him alone into this room. Paranoia told him that he was the chief suspect, that they’d shut him in here for the safety of the others, who were all laughing and emptying the drinks cabinet as they told the Detective exactly how he must have done it.

Common sense, however, was whispering in his other ear and informing him that everybody had been shut away, to stop anybody getting their stories straight with each other before being questioned by the police. Still, after all this time on his own – had it been twenty minutes, three hours? He didn’t know – the paranoia on his shoulder was getting louder and louder.

Matthew hadn’t believed him at first, when Harry had told him his grandfather was dead, he’d had to come over and find out for himself. As he backed away, clutching his stomach and gagging, Harry had dialled triple nine on his phone. He told the operator what had happened, but then she’d asked for the address and he began to splutter down the line that he didn’t know where he was.

He was trying to describe the surrounding area, what he could remember from the car journey – a large, dead oak tree, recently struck by lightning, a long gravel path, with a hedge alongside it – as Pat entered the room. She looked from Harry gesturing wildly with one hand as if the operator would be able to determine the address with unseen vague hand movements, to Matthew vomiting and shaking on the floor, before her eyes finally rested on Ernest’s corpse, slumped over the desk. A loud scream shot from her lips.

He had thrust phone into her hands and half listened to her babbling about an ambulance as he attempted to soothe Matthew, and stop him from throwing up, by rubbing his back gently.

Disturbed by Pat’s scream, Nicola had been the first person to rush into the room, before stumbling back in surprise at what she found. Harry tried to usher everyone out of the room, literally having to drag Matthew out, and as he shut the door Victoria had appeared, demanding an explanation.

One by one the rest of the family arrived, disturbed by the noise, and wanted to know just what had happened. As Harry told them, their initial shock soon turned to suspicion and everyone stiffened as the tension in the corridor grew.

One of them, gathered there outside the crime scene, was a murderer, and they were all looking warily at each other, not letting anyone stand too close to them. Victoria started demanding to see his body, she said that she wouldn’t believe it until she saw it with her own eyes, and she pushed her way past Frederick and Harry into the old man’s study. Frederick tried to pull her away from the desk, but by then, the damage had been done. They’d all seen his corpse.

Elizabeth, in particular, was hysterical and while Robert tried to calm her down, Frederick and Reece once more moved everyone out into the hallway.

Fairly quickly an ambulance crew had turned up. Thirty seconds behind them a squad car with sirens blazing, crunched to a halt on the gravel driveway, sending a cloud of dust up into the beam of light produced by the floodlight above the front door.

Several more uniformed officers arrived, the paramedics departed, and one bleary eyed officer assembled everyone in the drinks room, adopted his best sombre tone and regretfully informed them all that Ernest Cromwell had passed.

Bleary eyed sombre cop explained that they would need to wait for the Detective to arrive, that he was on his way, but until he did arrive, they would all have to wait alone. Then he and several other officers, started to take them one by one from the room. He marched Harry past Ernest’s bathroom, past Ernest’s study, where Harry assumed the body still lay, diligently being inspected by a team of forensic officers.

Then he had sat in there, slowly waiting for the detective to arrive, waiting for the day to be over. The officer had suggested that Harry try to get some sleep, that the detective had to cross quite a distance to get here, and that he would want to examine the crime scene before even thinking about speaking to any of them, but he couldn’t sleep.

He kept thinking about Cromwell’s cold, pulse-less neck, about all the people he’d met that night. Everyone had a motive, including himself, and possibly even Joshua at a stretch, though he couldn’t quite imagine him sneaking up on his great-grandfather and pulling a trigger.

Harry had just started to doze off, sat on the floor leaning against the washing machine when Jennings had burst in.

“Harry Hicks,” he’d said, looking down at him, half asleep sat next to a pile of dirty clothes, “I never realised how glamorous a film star’s life could be.”

“This is nothing,” he said pulling himself up, “you should see what I get up to at New Years.”

“I’m DI Sam Jennings,” he offered his hand, which Harry gently shook, “I need to ask you a few questions about what happened here tonight.”

“I know, I’ve been waiting to answer them for about six hours now.”

“Don’t exaggerate, Mr Hicks, it’s twenty minutes to five, you’ve been in here less than three hours.”

“Still, not the best start to Christmas Day is it?”

“Yes, well, I apologise for the wait, but the traffic was… well, I’ll be honest with you, the traffic was non-existent, but this place is in the middle of nowhere, and it took me a while to find it.”

“Hey, not a problem, I’ve been looking to get some alone time, for a while now, this was just the break I needed.”

“Right, Turner, any chance of a chair?” The young officer who had followed Jennings in glanced around for a moment, before pulling out a fold away stool from behind the door. “You want me to sit on this? I suppose you want me to use the ironing board as a desk as well, don’t you?”

Turner simply shrugged and dragged the ironing board over in front of Jennings.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” The detective gestured to him and Harry rolled his eyes before hauling himself to sit on the edge of the washing machine.

He looked down at Jennings slightly too large for the stool, definitely too grizzled for the patterned ironing board cover. “Is this… usual?”

“It’s Christmas Day, and my marriage is over if I miss dinner for a third year running. I’m going to have somebody locked away for this murder by lunchtime. If that means I have to bend the rules a little bit, so be it.”

“Fine. Where do you want to start?”

“Why don’t we start with you telling us why you’re here?”

“This is where your man shoved me when he split us all up.”

“No, I don’t mean, here in this room, I mean here in this house, in these people’s lives? Why aren’t you with your family?”

“I don’t really have any family.” Harry said quietly. “Frederick was coming back to England for Christmas, he said I could come along. How could I refuse?”

“It’s all a bit odd, isn’t it? You and him?”

“In what way?”

“You’re a big Hollywood heartthrob, he’s a gay man.”

“He’s an Englishman,” Harry smiled, inwardly cursing himself, as the instinct to protect his secret kicked in automatically, “I’m an Englishman. We met in a British pub in Hollywood, the Bulldog.”

“So, you’re friends, nothing more?” Jennings asked.

“Nothing more.” Harry said quietly.

“I see.” He scribbled down a note in his pad. “Tell me, why do you suppose Mr Cromwell was murdered? Who could possibly want to see him dead?”

“How big is that notepad of yours?”

Jennings gave a curt nod. “Are you suggesting that he was not short of enemies?”

“I guess you could say that. There was a large argument over dinner about… nothing. Everything, really.”

“What started it?”

Harry frowned as he tried to think back. “Ernest did. He announced to his family he was going to make Robert his heir, put him in charge of the business.”

“Robert?”

“Forrester, he’s here tonight. I’m not sure where you’ve put him though.”

“And his family didn’t like it?”

“Not one bit.”

“Who?”

“Reece, Jennifer. Gary. I guess Gary was probably the most upset about it.”

“Do you believe that Gary was upset enough to kill his father, simply because of his announcement?” Jennings asked.

“I guess it wasn’t entirely the announcement, more of the way he said it.”

“How do you mean?”

“He insulted the entire room, told them just why he wasn’t putting any of them in charge.”

“And why was that?”

“Umm, I don’t know,” Harry frowned, “Gary’s an alcoholic, Reece is going the same way. Nicola, Jennifer, Fiona, they’re all women – and whores as well, apparently.”

“What about the others?” Jennings asked, checking the notepad in front of him. “Elizabeth? Frederick?”

“I don’t think Mrs Cromwell’s ever been interested in running the business, she seemed perfectly happy about the whole situation.”

“So Elizabeth Cromwell is the only person who doesn’t have a motive, as far as you’re concerned?”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that. Ernest turned on Frederick, pretty much told him that because he was gay, he was worthless. He accused his mother of not standing up for him. Maybe she finally did, though, I’m not sure I can imagine her shooting him.”

Jennings wrote something down on his pad, paused for a moment, carefully choosing his words. “How close did you get to the body, Mr Hicks?”

“Close enough to know I didn’t want to get any closer. To be honest, I knew that when he was alive as well?”

“You’re an expert in gunshot wounds, are you? You knew straight away that Mr Cromwell had been shot?”

“Umm, no. I just saw the gun on the side and assumed.”

Jennings motioned for the young officer to come over. He pointed at something on his pad, and Turner nodded, before quietly leaving the room.

“Just to confirm, make sure everything matches up, what ‘side’ did you see the gun on.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m just trying to establish everybody’s movements, I need to know if anything was moved by anyone. Please, where was the gun?”

“It was just on the edge of the desk. The corner closest to the door.”

“Ok, so what happened after Cromwell’s announcement? Anybody make any death threats?”

“No. Gary let slip that Ernest had had another son, years before, but he’s not around anymore. Everybody started arguing and then when Ernest started picking on Frederick, Matthew told everyone that he was gay as well.”

“Matthew is…” Jennings checked his notes again, “Gary’s son, Cromwell’s grandson?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m guessing the old man didn’t like this very much?”

“Correct.”

“What about Victoria, Frederick’s sister?”

“What about her?” Harry asked.

“Well, she’s done it before. She killed her father when he attacked her family.”

“They argued about that, he brought it up, threatened to tell Joshua, that’s Victoria’s son, what she’d done. But I hardly think that she would have – ”

“She stabbed her father in the back three times. Her grandfather died due to a… similar wound in his back.”

“It’s completely different.”

“If you insist. Who do you think did it then?”

“I don’t know, I guess… Robert. He and Ernest had a huge argument.”

Jennings frowned. “They had an argument? What about? The man was making him his heir.”

“He was. He changed his mind.”

“Why?”

“Ernest and I walked in on Robert. He was arguing with Victoria and Frederick.”

“What about?”

“Victoria and Robert slept together, years ago. He’s Joshua’s father. And…” Harry hesitated. “Frederick and Robert slept together as well. Robert used him to convince Ernest to give him a job.”

“And Ernest wasn’t impressed?”

“Not particularly. He told Robert, he wouldn’t leave him in charge of the business.”

“I’ve already spoken to Mrs Cromwell, she says that Forrester was in bed with her until her father’s body was discovered.”

Harry smiled. “She doesn’t know what he was up to with her children. Perhaps you should tell her and then ask her again.”

“I’ll do the police-work, thank you, Mr Hicks.” Jennings frowned a little but made a note on his pad anyway. “What did you do for the rest of the evening?”

“Not much,” Harry shrugged, “I talked with Freddie for a while. He was… he was upset that Robert had used him. Then I got a call from my agent, I spoke to her for about twenty, thirty minutes maybe.”

“So, when you finished the call with your agent, that would have been, what? Ten o’clock?”

“More like ten thirty,” Harry said, “I went down to the kitchen to get myself something to eat, I passed that big grandfather clock in the hall on the way.”

“Was there anyone else in the kitchen with you?”

“Ella, briefly, but she left to… she went to have a shower. It was just me and Pat, we talked for a while.” Harry wasn’t sure why he didn’t mention Reece’s attack on Ella, perhaps to protect her. It wasn’t as if it had anything to do with the old man’s death. Reece would have killed me before his grandfather.

“What did you talk about?”

“She told me about Raymond, that’s Ernest’s son, the one he lied to his family about.”

“I see. But you were with Matthew Cromwell when you discovered Ernest’s body?”

“Yeah. While Pat and I were talking, Ernest came into the kitchen. Said he needed witnesses for his new will, his lawyer had arrived by then.”

“I was under the impression that he didn’t like you very much?”

“He didn’t. But he only needed a signature.”

“Do you know what this new will said, Mr Hicks?”

“Not a clue. I couldn’t have cared less. I just signed the thing.” Harry shifted uncomfortably as another lie slipped out, and so easily.

“So, what did you do then?”

“I left him in his study.”

“With his lawyer and…” Jennings checked his notes again, “Patricia French?”

“No,” Harry avoided eye contact with him, “they’d already left by then. I stayed behind for a couple of minutes. I wanted to talk to him.”

“About what?”

“Frederick. Matthew.”

“Ah, the gay grandsons. How lucky they are to have such a caring… friend like you sticking up for them. Do you remember seeing the gun on the desk when you were talking to the deceased?”

“Yes. He got something out from his safe, got it out then.”

“Was this before or after Mrs French and Mr Lloyd left the room?”

“After.”

“It was just you and him?”

“Yes. Why?”

“According to you, the man was shot in the back with his own gun. That’s not a pre-meditated murder, that’s spur of the moment, an opportunity. Seems like not only were you the last to see him alive, you were the only one to know the gun was there. Mr Hicks, did you kill Ernest Cromwell?”

Harry almost choked on his own tongue as he felt Jennings eyes bore into him, gauging his reaction. Jennings was clearly hoping to catch him off guard. “What? No! I talked to him, that’s all. I was out of there before midnight.”

“Can anyone vouch for that?”

“Matthew. He saw me leave. I spent the rest of the night with him, he was upset, needed someone to talk to.”

“And then you discovered Mr Cromwell’s body?”

“That’s right. Matthew threw up and I rang the police. Several hours later, you turned up.”

He ignored Harry’s last comment and carefully scrutinised his notebook for a few moments. “Well, thank you, Mr Hicks,” he said with a false smile, “you’ve been most helpful. If you would just stay in here a little while longer, I may have some more questions for you a little later on.”

He stood up and walked out of the room, without even waiting for a response from Harry. Once again, Harry was left on his own, contemplating the night’s events.

 

*                *                *

 

Harry was woken up by the sound of the door opening. Again, he didn’t know what the time was, but he knew that some time had passed since Jennings had last visited him, early morning sunlight was streaming in through the small high window set in the window opposite.

“You’ve been lying to me, Mr Hicks.” Jennings snarled at Harry, as he pulled himself up.

Before he had been woken up, Harry had been dreaming that he was being arrested for Ernest’s murder, and no matter how much he protested his innocence, no one had believed him. He’d been dragged from the house in handcuffs, with everybody watching, Frederick hugging Robert for support, Matthew stood at the back, ignoring him and above them all, the large portrait of Ernest looking down and laughing maniacally.

Now Jennings was looking down at him, and he wasn’t looking happy at all.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean?”

Harry stared at him for a minute, but he stared back, just as hard. “Someone told you I was gay.”

“Oh, not someone, Mr Hicks, some people. Apparently, it’s almost public knowledge these days.”

“That’s exactly the point though, isn’t it? It’s not public knowledge, I can’t really afford for people to know. It would ruin my career. Do you honestly think that – ”

“What I think Mr Hicks, is that it’s Christmas Day, there’s been a murder, and one of the suspects is lying to me.”

“It’s not relevant.”

“I decide what’s relevant, not you!” He shouted so loudly, that Harry thought the vibrations could probably be felt in every room in the house.

“Who told?” Harry asked as Jennings sat himself back down at the ironing board, noticing for the first time, that he had brought a small laptop in with him.

“Let’s see, there’s your boyfriend, his sister, Robert Forrester, he seemed quite keen for me to know. And young Matthew.”

Harry sighed, a small smile on his lips. “He said he wouldn’t tell.”

“Don’t be too hard on the kid, he didn’t have a choice. He was trying to protect you.”

“Protect me? What do you mean?”

“Like I said, Robert was very adamant that I know that you were arguing with Mr Cromwell. He seems to think that you might have killed him.”

“What? Why could he possibly think that?”

“Oh, you’ve got to admit, it would be rather poetic. A rather homophobic old man, killed by a gay man… shooting at him from behind. It’s all rather… Freudian.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

Jennings stared at him for a few moments. “I know. In fact, that’s about all I do know at this point.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ve been able to determine that Mr Cromwell didn’t die until some point after midnight. At 11.55 he made a phone call to an automated service, transferring some money from his personal account to the account of Mr Gregory Lloyd, presumably payments for his services tonight. You were with Matthew Cromwell by that time.”

Harry frowned. He’d had dealings with the police before, and his attitude seemed off. “And you’re just going to take my word for it?”

“Well, not just yours. Matthew has sworn to it as well. Plus, we have this.” He patted the laptop.

“What’s that?”

“Your alibi.” Jennings lifted the top of the laptop, waited for the screen to load and then pressed play on a video clip.

A view of Matthew’s bedroom appeared, a small clock in the corner indicated the time was 23:52.

“Just making sure it’s turned off.” Matthew moved away from the screen and Harry could his own face clearly displayed upon it.

“Right.”

Jennings quickly tapped a few keys and Harry watched in horror, as he and Matthew both quickly moved around the room, quickly gesturing to each other. Jennings looked away from the screen and turned to Harry as the video showed him pulling Matthew’s clothes from him. The two of them quickly started to have sex on the bed, both stark naked, faces in clear view.

Jennings closed the lid shut. “The video shows you and Matthew in the room until 01:07. The records show that your phone call to the emergency services came through at 01:13. Obviously, we’ll have to get the video verified, but it looks like you’re in the clear, Mr Hicks.”

“Do you know who did do it?”

“I have my suspicions. You were right about Mrs Cromwell, though. Once I told her the truth about Forrester and her children, she suddenly remembered that he was in the bathroom when she woke up. She has no idea where he was all night.”

“I told you.”

“Since you are so clued up on the goings on in this house, maybe you could help us with another little mystery. The gun, the one you saw on the desk. The thing is, we can’t find it.”

“What? It was right there.”

“Who else was in the room at the time?”

“Umm…” Harry struggled to remember, “Matthew. Nicola. Pat. Everyone was in there at one point, Victoria pushed her way in and everyone else followed.”

“You didn’t see anybody take the gun?”

Harry shook his head quietly, and found his gaze drifting to the laptop on the board in front of him. “If… If the media get hold of that – ”

“The media will be the last of your worries.” Jennings kept a stony expression on his face. “You’re not going to be charged with murder, Hicks, but someone’s going to want to talk to you about sleeping with a minor.”

“What? He’s sixteen!”

“In six days time.”

Suddenly Harry felt as if his insides had collapsed, as if he was no longer a man, but a hollow shell of skin and hair. This was it. His life, his career. Everything he’d ever done for Vincent. It was over. He’d be branded a sex offender and completely shunned by everyone he knew.

“I…  I’m…”

“Get up.”

Harry pulled myself up from the floor and slowly followed him towards the door. “Are you arresting me? Because of Matthew?”

“I could, but I won’t. Just remember this, I don’t like being surprised, Hicks, if I find out you’ve told me any more lies, I’ll have you down that police station on statutory rape charges so quickly, you won’t have time to pack your Oscar.”

 

*                *                *

 

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” Harry asked Jennings, stopping outside the oak-panelled door to Ernest’s drinks room.

“Don’t worry, Hicks,” Jennings muttered as he pushed open the door, “your secret’s safe with me.”

Harry saw his gaze settle on Pat, who was sitting on a chair just inside the door, he wondered if she’d told him about her affair with her boss.

“Looks like I’m the last to arrive to the party.” He said, looking around at everyone sat around the room on assorted chairs. Reece was leaning against the wall on the far side of the room, looking out at the early morning sunshine.

“Hey,” Robert raised his voice, as he pulled himself up from the small cards table, “why are you keeping us all locked up in here like animals? When are you going to let us out?”

“I’ve already warned you, Forrester, it might be a good idea if you try to keep a lid on that temper of yours. I’ll be with you shortly.” With that, Jennings turned and left, closing the door behind him.

Robert stood close and looked down at Harry, curling his lip in a sneer. “We were just talking about you.”

“How flattering.”

“Not really,” he said coldly, “we were just contemplating why he might have kept you longer than the rest of us.”

“Turns out he’s a fan. Wanted my autograph”

“Robert has a theory,” Victoria said, sitting on the floor with Joshua as he played with a few small toys, “he thinks that since you were the last to see him, you killed him.”

“Ernest’s murderer was the last person to see him alive, since I didn’t kill him, I wasn’t the last person to see him.” Harry looked Robert in the eyes. “Do you think you can grasp the logic of that?”

“That’s not entirely true. We know you were the last to see him, Pat told us she left you alone in his office with him.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Pat rasped, sounding as if something was stuck in her throat, “I wasn’t meaning that you killed him.”

“He has an alibi.” Matthew said slowly and clearly, almost as if he’d said it a thousand times already. He was sat on one end of a couch, there was a spare seat on his left, and on the far end sat Frederick, who was just looking at Harry quietly.

“Ah, yes, I forgot,” Gary spoke up, but remained sitting at the same table Robert had stood up from, he was the only other person sat there, “he was with you all night, in your bedroom.”

“It wasn’t like that. I was just giving him some advice, listening to him. Someone had to.”

“Not all night.” Frederick mumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Matthew said the two of you were in his bedroom all night, you weren’t. I went up there to talk to him, there was no answer. Either you weren’t in there, or – ”

“We were in here.” Matthew quickly interrupted his cousin. “We came in here for a few minutes.”

“You came in here?” Jennifer asked, suddenly sitting a little more rigid on another couch. “Umm… what for?”

“Well…” Harry stumbled, looking down at her, “it had been a long night, I thought we could both use a drink.”

“You know he’s under age, right?” Nicola, sat next to Jennifer, looked at me accusingly.

“Believe me, I’m well aware of that fact.”

“Sodomy,” Robert sneered at him, “supplying alcohol to a minor, murder. No wonder the police kept you in there so long.”

“Sodomy isn’t a crime, Robert, you should know that.” Robert’s face flushed with anger and he grabbed Harry by the collar of his shirt and shoved him against the door.

“Just sit down!” Elizabeth stood over by the drinks cabinet shouted across the room at Robert. When he didn’t release his grip on Harry’s neck, she threw a scotch glass across the room. “Sit down!”

The glass smashed into the wall with a thud causing shards to fall down just next to Ella’s chair. Ella gave a high yelp and leaned over towards Pat to avoid the debris.

Robert stared into Harry’s eyes for another moment, before letting him go and turning back to the table. Both Frederick and Matthew were trying to catch Harry’s eye, but he purposefully avoided them and sat on the couch next to Jennifer.

For a few moments, there was silence.

“I need to go to the toilet.” Fiona said quietly, staring straight out in front of her, her eyes on a bookcase.

“Just hold it darling,” Jennifer said, just as quietly, “they can’t keep us in here much longer.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Reece muttered, continuing to watch something in the distant hedgerow, “they’re probably monitoring this room, got it bugged or something. Trying to catch one of us out, maybe all of us, maybe they think we did it together.”

“You can hardly blame them for thinking that,” Victoria said, “I don’t think anyone in here can honestly say they’re sad to see him go.”

Elizabeth glared at her daughter but said nothing, as the door opened and Jennings entered, followed by two uniformed policemen and Gregory Lloyd, Ernest’s lawyer.

“Good news everyone, we’ve found the old man’s will. Anyone want to know what it says?” A silence filled the room as Jennings looked at us all, a glint in his eye. “Oh, come on, all that money, all that power, you must be wondering which one of you lucky people gets it all. No? Well, I’m keen to know. Mr Lloyd?”

Gregory took a deep breath as he looked at Jennings sideways, before unfolding the piece of paper. “This is the last will and testament of Ernest Cromwell, I hereby declare that all previous – ”

“Oh come on, Lloyd, skip the boring stuff,” Jennings looked around, grinning wildly, “just give us the gist, who gets the money?”

“Upon the death of Mr Ernest Cromwell, all his assets shall be divided evenly between Mr Frederick Cromwell…” A few people looked at Frederick in surprise as the lawyer hesitated. “And his wife. Should Mr Frederick Cromwell not be married within twelve months of the death of Mr Ernest Cromwell and remain so for a period of two years, all assets will be sold off and the money donated to local government, to do with as they deem fit. Mr Frederick Cromwell’s claim on the inheritance shall be declared invalid if the union does not last for a minimum of twenty four months or produce a child of either sex.”

“Local government, eh?” Jennings smiled. “Sound like I’m going to get a shiny new desk at work.”

Everyone in the room, but Pat and Harry seemed shocked, they merely looked at each other and nodded. Only one other person in the room seemed unaffected by this announcement. Gary said nothing, he didn’t move or flinch as he heard the details of Ernest’s will. He simply stared into his glass, swirling the clear liquid around the bottom of it.

 

 

Read the next chapter here

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 13

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

February, 2009

 

Ernest was slumped over the desk at an awkward angle as Gary entered the study. For a moment, he stared at his father, unsure of what to do.

“Dad?” Michael asked, following his younger brother inside, and shutting the door. The resulting bang of wood upon wood caused Ernest to wake and sit up suddenly. “Where have you been? We were supposed to meet at the office an hour ago.”

“Oh.” Ernest frowned and checked his watch, massaging his shoulder as he did. “I’m sorry, boys, I guess I nodded off.”

“Right.” Michael nodded, frowning as he did.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be concerned about. When you get to my age, you start needing to take an afternoon nap or two.”

“Well, perhaps,” Gary started as he and Michael sat down in front of their father’s desk, “it’s time that you started to take things a little easier.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, like you say, you’re not getting any younger and yet… you seem to be putting more and more time in at work. Perhaps it’s time you thought about retirement.”

“Actually,” Ernest said as he straightened out the papers on his desk, “that’s why I wanted to meet with the two of you. I have been thinking about retiring, for a long time now.”

“You have?” Michael asked.

“Oh, come on, Michael, you can’t pretend that you haven’t noticed. For the last few years, I’ve been giving you more and more of my responsibilities.”

“You want Michael to take over the business?”

Ernest looked across at his youngest son. “I would absolutely love for Michael to take over the business.”

“Dad – ”

“But,” Ernest interrupted Michael, “we all know that unfortunately, due to circumstances out of our control – ”

“They are not circumstances out of our control, Dad!” Michael shouted. “It’s a disease. I’m ill!”

A muscle in Ernest’s cheek twitched as he looked away from Michael and focused on Gary. “As your brother has just reminded us, he’s not really in a position to head up a company, let alone take one over full time. It’s time for us to shift our gaze from past disappointments and wasted potential to the future.”

Gary sat up straighter in his chair. “So, what have you decided then, Dad?”

“As you both know this is a family business and I want to keep it in the family. Obviously, there are only so many people in one family and so my choices are a little limited. But I believe that Frederick has the potential.”

“Frederick?”

“Well, of course,” Ernest frowned, “who did you think we were talking about?”

“He is the most logical choice,” Michael agreed, “he’s dynamic, creative, intelligent.”

“Ok, I see, I see.” Gary conceded. “If Frederick’s the next logical choice, then why am I sat here?”

“Well, the qualities that would make Frederick the ideal man to take over the business are also the same sort of qualities that could mean he wouldn’t take the job. He’s unpredictable, we need a back-up plan.”

“And I’m the back-up plan?” Gary asked.

“What? No. I’m talking about Reece. I want to send him to university, he doesn’t quite have the raw talent that Frederick does.”

“Reece?”

“Well, I guess it makes sense, it would keep the business in the family, after all.” Michael agreed.

“Excuse me? Aren’t we forgetting someone?”

“Well,” Michael nodded, “of course Matthew would be considered as well, but at the end of the day, he is only thirteen.”

“I’m not talking about either of my fucking children!” Gary stood up. “I’m talking about me!”

“You?” Ernest laughed as Michael buried his head in his hands. “You want to run this business?”

“Why is that funny?”

“Look, perhaps I’d better leave, this is between the two of you.” Michael stood up.

“Yeah, perhaps that would be a good idea. I’m always going to look like second best while you’re in the room.”

“Listen,” Michael spat at Gary, “I’m not to blame for your failings, and I’m certainly never going to play down my own successes in order to make you feel good. But let’s just get one thing straight. You are not second best, we’ve already established that Frederick, Reece and Matthew all come before you!”

Gary frowned at Michael as he left the room. He turned back to face his father and Ernest began to laugh again.

“What the hell are you laughing at?”

“You!” Ernest grinned. “Your delusions that you could ever be a successful businessman! You’re barely even a successful man!”

Gary’s face turned red. “You really are a monster, you know that?”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah! You don’t know the first thing about me!”

“Well, I know that for four weekends running, you’ve been hungover whenever I’ve come around!”

“That’s rubbish.”

“Rubbish?” Ernest asked. “When was the last time you were drunk?”

Gary laughed. “Ok, ok, you got lucky. Just because I was out drinking last night with some buddies, doesn’t mean that I’m not suitable to run Cromley’s!”

“And what were you doing the night before? And on Monday night?”

“You’ve never given me a chance to be anything but a failure!”

“You were always a failure, before I even started treating you like one.”

“I’m a failure? Look at you!”

“Look at me?” Ernest cried. “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m a multi-millionaire! I took one measly little shop that my father owned and duplicated it and multiplied it a million times over! I married a beautiful woman, had four children – ”

“That’s exactly your problem! Yeah, you’ve got a successful business, but you’ve got three children not four! That beautiful woman you married? She died nearly forty years ago! You’ve never got over that, you’ve never been with anyone since! All you did was fool some poor deluded woman into screwing you sixty odd years ago!”

“Leave your mother out of this!”

“No, really, she was lucky she died when she did, she wouldn’t have had to live with you for the past forty years!”

“Luck had nothing to do with your mother’s death. Your mother died, because she thought you were ill!”

“I was ill! I could have died!”

“And you couldn’t even do that properly could you!”

“Is that what my whole life has been about? You’ve blamed me for mum’s death?” Gary smiled slyly. “Well, I’ve got news for you, if you hadn’t been so wrapped up in making your millions and millions of pounds and actually been home with us that night where you should have been, mum never would have died. It’s your fault she’s dead!”

A stony silence filled the room between the two of them until Ernest’s curled fist smashed into Gary’s jaw.

Ernest looked down at Gary, crumpled on the floor. “You think I don’t know that? I’ve relived that night in my head a million times over, if I’d just been at home, if I hadn’t gone to work, if I’d just retired when I’d wanted to…  get out.”

 

February, 2009

 

“So, what?” Frederick asked as his grandfather pocketed a red ball and bent over the table to take his next shot. “You want me to run your business?”

“I want you to consider coming to work for me. You’re a talented young man, Freddie, with the right training, perhaps a little bit of education and guidance, I think that you could really do something with Cromley’s.”

“But I assume that you’re not going to just hand over the keys to the company Rolls Royce, put my name down on the executive parking list, hand me the password to your laptop and let me go at it.”

“Well, quite. You have potential, Frederick, and no matter how much potential anyone has, it needs to be tapped.”

“Look, Grandpa,” Frederick smiled as his grandfather’s red ball kissed the cushion near the corner pocket, wobbled a little, but remained on the table, “I appreciate the offer and everything, but I really don’t think I want to… you know, become an office worker, right now.”

“Just take your turn, Freddie.” Ernest sat on the couch with a glass of scotch and watched as Frederick sank a yellow ball at the opposite end of the table.

“We’re even.”

“So we are,” Ernest raised an eyebrow, “look, I’m not supposed to say this, but out of all my grandchildren, heck, out of all my children, you’re my favourite. You’re the only one who’s never disappointed me.”

“Well, you have my word that I won’t tell anyone. Unless of course, I’m trying to rub Vicky’s nose in it.”

“Of course you won’t tell anyone, you might not be able to back it up. You’re starting to disappoint me more and more each day. You’re twenty two years old and you’re still working for that Pathetic little newspaper.”

“So, you want me to quit that and come work for you?”

“All I’m saying is give it a go. While you’re waiting for your true vocation in life to find you, give this a go, you might find that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.”

“I already know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“Ah, yes,” Ernest smiled, “you’re going to be a writer! You know, this might surprise you, but to be a writer, you actually need to do some writing sometime.”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that?” Frederick frowned. “Just because you don’t see me write, doesn’t mean I don’t write.”

“Well, you never talk about it.”

“My writing’s kind of private. When it’s ready, I’ll share it with the world, but until then, it’s kind of a personal thing.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Until you’re ready to share it with the world, why not try this?”

“Listen, Grandpa,” Frederick sighed as he tried to line up his shot, “I’ve got a new job. I start in two weeks time.”

“A new job? Doing what?”

“My agent sent out a few spec scripts to some film producers, one of them really liked some of my stuff.” The yellow ball he was aiming for, rebounded off a cushion and stopped in the middle of the table, while the cue ball wobbled precariously on the edge of the middle pocket.

“And? They’re going to get you to write their films for them.”

“No. They’re putting me on a training program for junior writers. Eventually it’ll lead to co-writing credits, and then who knows.”

“And this training program, it’s full time?” He gently hit the cue ball and Frederick watched as it softly rolled to the end of the table, and gently knocked in the red ball hovering on the corner.

“Not exactly. When I’m not on the training program, I’ll be working with one of their top writers, an assistant.”

“Oh, Freddie! Forget about being an assistant!” Ernest cried. “Stay on the training program, whatever, but while you’re doing that, work for me. Not some snobby writer you’ve never met before!”

“Well, I could probably just about manage the workload, but the commute would be one hell of a bitch.” Ernest hit another red, but it bounced off one of Frederick’s yellows and came to a rest halfway up the table.

“What do you mean?”

“The job’s in Hollywood.”

“Hollywood?” Ernest asked.

“Well, of course, I’m hardly going to work in the British Film Industry, there’s no money in it.”

“But Hollywood? I mean, the only kind of men you find there are drug addicts and queers!”

“Well,” Frederick laughed as he pocketed a yellow, “you’ll be pleased to know that I’m not a drug addict.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, no, nothing, it was a joke.”

“No, it wasn’t, you tell me what you mean.”

“Look, I think… I…” Frederick spluttered as a small knock on the door interrupted him.

“Is this a bad time?” Nicola poked her head around the door, and Frederick lowered his gaze back to the table. He nervously hit the cue-ball straight past a yellow ball and into a corner pocket.

“Well, actually, Nicola, it is.” Ernest smiled at her. “Perhaps – ”

“Well, tough.” Nicola entered the room and dropped a small suitcase on the floor. “We’re moving in.”

“You’re what?” He asked, retrieving the white ball from the opening at the end of the table.

“Me, Gary and the kids, we’re moving in.”

“What? Why?”

“Perhaps, I should go,” Frederick stood up and moved towards the door, “you two clearly have stuff to talk about.”

“No!” Ernest stood up. “You just wait right there, we’ve got things to talk about – and a game to finish.”

“Look,” Nicola smiled sweetly, “I don’t want to interrupt the two of you, so if you just tell me which rooms we can have, I’ll start moving us in.”

“No, you can just wait as well.” Ernest turned to Frederick. “Just what did you mean by that little quip?”

“What little quip?” Nicola asked.

“I was just making a joke, that’s all.”

“You implied you were gay!”

“Oh, is that what this is about?” Nicola shrugged, and sat down on one of the chairs, crossing her legs. “Little Freddie finally plucked up the courage to tell his grandfather he’s gay.”

“I’m not gay!”

“You knew?” Ernest’s head looked as if it were about to start boiling.

“Well, of course.” Nicola smiled as she selected a stick of chewing gum from her purse. “We all knew. What did you think all that stuff was about his father’s death?”

“The man was drunk,” Ernest frowned, “he attacked Freddie for being out late, Elizabeth and Victoria stepped in to help and he attacked them as well. He was killed in self defence!”

“I’m not arguing that,” Nicola said, casually smacking her lips as she spoke, “all I’m saying is that he wasn’t angry because Frederick had stayed out late, he attacked him because he’d stayed out late with his boyfriend.”

Ernest scowled up at his grandson, the shot he was all prepared to take, forgotten about.

“I’m not gay!” There was a long silence. “I’m… I’m bisexual.”

Ernest unconsciously pushed his cue forward without even looking at it. The white ball smacked into the black ball and then careened into a side pocket.

“I win.” Frederick muttered to himself.

“You’re a what?”

“Oh, it means that he likes to sleep with both men and women. You know, he pockets both the yellows and the reds, if you like. A lot of people do it nowadays, it’s quite en vogue.”

“Listen, Nicola, stay out of this.” Ernest glared at her.

“Actually, I’d rather not. I’ve got a manicure booked, so I’d like to move all my stuff in before that.”

“Yeah, and I’ve got to go home. I’m going to tell mum about my new job.”

“Nicola, if you could just give us a moment – ”

“Actually, I really couldn’t, have you seen the state of my nails lately?” Nicola grabbed hold of Ernest’s forearm.

“I’ll see you later.” Frederick slipped out of the door as Nicola pushed her father-in-law into an armchair.

“Nicola, just what is going on? Why are you so keen on moving in? What’s happened to the apartment complex.”

“Oh, that, we were kicked out. The resident’s committee voted in an overwhelming majority that we were no longer welcome.”

“What? Why?”

“Oh, Gary arrived home yesterday morning, a little worse for wear.”

“He was drunk again?”

“Just a little.”

“And how is that my problem, Nicola?”

“Because, Ernest,” Nicola sat down opposite him, “if it hadn’t been for you, he wouldn’t have been drinking.”

“What did he do?” Ernest asked.

“I’d rather not say. All I will say is that the communal pool is going to be out of action for the next couple of weeks while it’s cleaned.” She picked up her bag and slid out of the room.

Ernest stood up and braced himself against the pool table. He picked up the cue ball and stared at it, just able to make out his own distorted silhouette in the shine of it. Then, with a loud, anguished roar, he sent it smashing through the window.

 

Starbucks, London

March, 2009

 

“He did what?” Jennifer almost choked on her latte.

“He rolled in to the complex at about seven in the morning, threw up and then took a – and I’m using his words here not mine – a slash in the pool.”

“Well, what did the attendant do? Didn’t he try to stop him?”

“Oh, he tried,” Nicola took a bite of her biscotti, “but Gary assaulted him, quite viciously by all accounts.”

“How viciously?”

“Well, I’m not quite sure, I never saw the… wounds, but the blood, my god, it looked like an explosion in a pizza factory.”

“Is he being charged? I mean, he assaulted that poor man.”

“Oh, no,” Nicola waved her hand dismissively, “our lawyer managed to convince him and the committee that involving the police wasn’t necessary. However, one of the conditions made to us by the committee was that we leave immediately.”

“I still can’t believe that Gary would do that, he seems so… gentle.”

“Well, I’ve still got some friends back at the complex, one of them is going to ship over a copy of the CCTV tape, it should make for interesting viewing.”

“Well, I don’t mean to seem insensitive,” Jennifer smiled, “but… was he drunk?”

“Of course he was bloody drunk!” Nicola frowned at her sister-in-law. “When isn’t he?”

“But he’s been doing so well, what happened?”

“Who do you think?”

“Oh,” Jennifer sighed, “what did he say?”

“I’m not exactly too clear on that, Gary wasn’t really in a condition to say, and when I asked Ernest about it, he was a little preoccupied.”

“Preoccupied? How?”

“Oh, you mean, you didn’t hear?” Nicola asked, signalling the waiter.

“Hear what?”

“Well, Frederick was there, and Ernie had just found out that Frederick was, you know…”

“No! How did he find out?”

“Well, from what I gather, Freddie was telling him about how he’s moving to Hollywood, and he made some sort of quip. Well, that’s when I walked in and… confirmed it all for him.”

“Oh, Nicola. You do manage to put your foot in it sometimes, don’t you?”

“What can I say?” Nicola smiled broadly, pulling some money from her purse and slipping it onto the small saucer in front of her. “I’m going back to mansion, I’m going by your place, do you want a lift?”

“Oh, no, it’s ok, I’m meeting Michael here in a few minutes.”

Nicola stretched across the table and grasped hold of Jennifer’s hand. “How is Michael holding up?”

“Oh, not good.” Jennifer rested her head between her thumb and forefinger. “He’s pretending he’s ok, but the stress is taking it’s toll. I think he’s going to have to stop working soon, and you know how much he enjoys his job. The minute he has to stay at home all day, is the minute his life ends.”

“But what about you and Fi?”

“Oh, sure, we’re important, but it’s his job that’s his baby, that company is his life.”

“Oh, here he is now! Michael!” Nicola waved across the cafe to Michael as he entered.

Michael smiled and hobbled across to them, leaning on a walking stick.

“Nicola, you look gorgeous as ever.”

“Oh, thank you, Michael, you’re looking dashing of course.” Nicola and Michael air kissed each other. “Look, I’ve got to go. But it was lovely seeing you, both.”

Michael took a seat as Nicola slipped out of the door onto the busy street outside.

“She’s managing quite well under the stress of it all, don’t you think? I mean, after what happened with Gary, and having to move in with your father, it could be difficult.”

“Well, of course she’s handling it well, now that Frederick’s out of the picture she’s going to be sorted well into her retirement.”

“What do you mean?” Jennifer frowned.

“Well, you know, dad was planning on training Frederick up as his apprentice, don’t you? Now that Frederick’s moving to Hollywood, that’s no longer an option, especially considering his condition.”

“It’s not a condition, Michael, what you have is a condition. Frederick has… a preference.”

“Right, whatever, that’s not the point. Now that Frederick’s all but disinherited himself, somebody’s got to step up to the plate. Daddy’s looking to Reece, possibly Matthew to do that. So, even if Gary completely cocks things up and doesn’t manage to get in dad’s good books, Nicola’s got two back-ups.”

“But what about me? What about Fiona? We’re family too, and we’re from the good side. Neither of us are drunks, neither of us are gay, and Fiona’s certainly not going to end up pregnant, not if I have anything to do with it.”

“Perhaps, but you’re both women. Daddy’s from that old school of thought, women don’t belong in business and men don’t belong in other men’s beds. If you were to even suggest to him that you might be the one to take over the business, he’d treat you in exactly the same way he’s treated Frederick. He only just tolerates you as his PA.”

“But… how am I supposed to provide for Fiona, once… once you’re…”

“Listen, honey, dad’s not going to cut you off. He’ll make sure you’re provided for.”

“And what happens when he dies? I mean, he’s not terminal like you, but he’s probably not got much longer.”

“Well, I guess, you’ll just have to get Reece onside. You’re going to have to be the best aunt ever.”

“How do I do that?”

“I’m sure we’ll think of something.” Michael smirked.

 

The Bulldog, Los Angeles

October, 2009

 

Frederick took a deep breath, straightened his suit, smiled at the bouncers and walked out of the balmy night air into the coolness of the bar. He glanced around the room, but saw no one familiar and so found a stool at the bar.

“Hey, Freddie! What are you having?” The bartender smiled across at him.

“Good evening, Bryan. I’ll have a double vodka and coke, and anything you want as well.”

“Honey, you know what I want, but you keep saying no.”

“Yet you keep trying night after night.”

“And you keep coming in here night after night, tempting me, teasing me.”

“Bryan, look, I’m sorry, I’m not in the mood to be hit on tonight.”

“Why?” Bryan asked as he mixed Frederick’s drink for him. “What’s happened?”

“You remember that family I told you about, back in England?”

“Yeah, they’re all like lords and ladies, aren’t they?”

“Well, not exactly.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Frederick looked up at the young black man. “My uncle, he… he’s dying. He has, like… cancer or something, I don’t know.”

“How long has he got?”

“A year, a week, a day, I don’t know. I just… he got taken into hospital last night. He’s not getting better.”

“You think perhaps you should go back?” Bryan asked, as he wiped down the top of the bar with a small towel.

“Maybe, I don’t know. If I go back, my grandfather’s going to lay a huge guilt trip on me and within a month I’ll be married, with three kids and in charge of a huge national corporation. If I don’t go back, I’ll be officially the black sheep of the family, and when I do eventually go back, he’ll lay an even bigger guilt trip on me.”

“I guess, you’re screwed whichever way you go. If I were you…” Bryan trailed off as a man approached the bar. “Hey, Harry, what can I get you?”

“Coldest beer you’ve got, please.” Frederick looked up as he heard the southern English tones coming from the young man.

“Hi.” Frederick smiled at him.

“Hey.” Harry smiled back politely and took the bottle from Bryan. “I’ll settle up with you later, Bryan?”

“Sure, whatever.” He nodded to Harry and then turned back to Frederick. “Ok, so like I was saying, if I were you – ”

“Was that Harry Hicks?” Frederick asked as he watched the young man take a seat at a small table in the corner.

“What? Oh, yeah. At least twice a week he comes in here and just sits there on his own. I think it’s God’s own special way of torturing me.”

“Listen, Bryan, thanks for listening to me whine, but just… save that thought.”

“What are you doing?”

Frederick smiled blankly. “I’m going over to talk to him, obviously.”

“I thought you said you weren’t in the mood to be hit on?”

“I’m not. But it’s Harry Hicks, man! There are some people in this world, you just have to go for when you get the chance. Who knows when I’m ever going to this kind of opportunity again? Quick, get me another one of those beers, you just gave him.”

“You know, I don’t think he bats for our team, Freddie.”

“Bryan, it’s Hollywood,” Frederick smiled as he took the bottle and put some money on the bar, “our team is the only team.”

He laughed to himself as he made his way over to the small round table, and placed the bottle down in front of Harry.

“Hey, I got you a drink.”

“Thanks, but… I already got one.” Harry raised the small bottle and took a swig from it.

“Yeah, I know. But I figured if I got you another one all lined up then we wouldn’t be interrupted by Bryan over there bringing you another one.”

“Right.” Frederick smiled and remained standing at the side of the table. “Err, you want to – ”

“Thanks.” Frederick sat down opposite him. “So, what’s a great big Hollywood superstar like you doing in a dingy little pub like this?”

Harry shrugged. “Reminds me of home, I guess. You know how outside, it looks so warm and cosy and then you get in here and there’s no one else around. It’s just like one of those old village pubs back in England.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Frederick smiled. “You know, Bryan said you come in here a lot, but I’ve got to say, I think I would remember seeing you here before.”

“Ah, you see, that’s the beauty of this corner, you can see out, but you can’t see in. You’ve never seen me here because you’ve never looked for me here. I’ve seen you, though.”

“You have?”

“Oh, yeah, you hardly keep yourself hidden. You’re always up there, laughing and joking around. Anyone would think you were the actor and I was the writer.”

“You know who I am?”

“Everybody’s heard about you, Frederick Cromwell.”

“All good?”

Harry smiled. “Mostly.”

“So… what are you up to at the moment?”

“I guess, you could say I’m between projects. Me and my agent are looking through some scripts. You?”

“Well, actually, I’m in the middle of submitting a few scripts to some producers myself. Maybe you could do one of mine, we’d be a great double act. We could get Kate Winslet to play your love interest, it’d be like the English taking over the entire town!”

“So… what have you been writing about then?”

“Well, I don’t really want to talk about it here, you can never know who’s listening.”

Harry leaned in to Frederick and smiled. “Frederick, there’s hardly anybody in here.”

“Yeah, but Bryan’s been looking really shifty lately.”

“Ah, well of course, I never did trust him.” Harry laughed. “How about we go somewhere a little more private? Maybe we could go back to your place and I could look over some of your… pages.”

Frederick quickly downed the rest of his drink. “Let’s go.”

“I tell you what, you go and get a taxi, I’ve got to settle up with Bryan.”

“Right, two minutes.” Frederick grinned and bolted out of the door as Harry moved up to the bar.

“Sorry, Bryan, I’m cutting it short tonight. How much do I owe you?”

“Forget about it, it’s on me.”

“Thanks. See you later.”

“You know,” Bryan started as Harry turned to go, “I’m doing my best to keep it a secret, just like you asked.”

“And I appreciate that.”

“Perhaps, but you’re not exactly making it easy, leaving here with Frederick. Everyone knows he’s gay.”

“It’s business. He’s got a script he wants me to see.”

“Right, of course.” Bryan shrugged. “I’m just trying to keep an eye on you.”

“Yeah, well,” Harry smiled weakly, “it’s a shame you didn’t do the same for my brother.”

Frederick appeared at the door and looked across at them both.

“Taxi’s waiting.”

Bryan reached across the bar and took hold of Harry’s hand. “Just be careful, won’t you?”

 

Queen Mary’s Royal Hospital, Wiltshire

July, 2010

 

Michael opened his eyes as he felt someone’s hand take his. He saw the clinical, dull white of the hospital ceiling above him. God how he wished death would come, if only to escape staring at that ceiling for another day. To his left was a bank of hospital machines, all busily confirming the ongoing nature of his existence, slowly aggravating him to death. The heart monitor especially, was the bane of his days, as it emitted a small bleep each time his heart gave a beat. Again, it would be worth death, just to escape the bleep.

He’d told this to a nurse who had just clucked over him, plumped his pillow and then bustled out of the room, returning five minutes later with a second nurse. Between themselves, they pressed a few buttons and the bleeping quietened, though grew more high-pitched. They beamed at him and he didn’t dare tell them that it was, perhaps, worse – who knew what fresh new torture they would dream up for him.

To his right sat his daughter.

“Fi.” He croaked.

Bleep.

“Dad,” she smiled and leaned over to hug him, “I didn’t mean to wake you.

“It’s all right.” Bleep. “I was having a horrible dream that I was dying of cancer.”

He smiled weakly at his own joke, but the smile on his daughter’s face faded quickly.

“Where’s your mother?” Bleep.

“She says she’s gone to grandpa’s, she keeps talking about us moving in.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Dad?” Bleep.

“Yes?” Bleep.

“I think mum’s having an affair.”

Bleep.

Bleep.

Bleep.

“My kingdom,” Michael said pulling himself up into a sitting position, now staring at the dull white wall, “my kingdom for a mute button.”

Bleep.

“Dad, did you hear me?”

“I heard you.”

He gazed at her for a moment, and decided that she needed to be told the truth, she needed to know what was going on. She needed to understand and support her mother, not turn against her.

So he told her, he told her how they had decided between them that Jennifer would seduce her nephew – it was ok, they’d told themselves, there was no blood relation – so that when Ernest handed the business down, Jennifer – and Fiona – would still be in a position of privilege.

He asked her to remain quiet, to not say anything to anyone, and to help her mother keep the affair secret.

“It needs doing, Fi. It’s a necessity.”

Fiona was inwardly appalled – her father was so cold, so logical in his thoughts that she wondered if he had always been this way, but then she remembered the way he’d been before his illness. How loving he had been, how fiercely protective of his family.

It seemed he would do anything for her.

“You’ll do it? You’ll help your mother out?”

Fiona nodded, she would do anything for him as well. She left the room, feigning the need to use the bathroom and Michael was left alone with the slow beeping of the monitor next to him.

Bleep.

He felt bad at seeing Fiona’s face like that.

Bleep.

But he felt fantastic at the same time, being honest like that had lifted something from him, as if everything would be ok.

Bleep.

He wondered how many bleeps were left.

Bleep.

His time was coming, he knew that much, but how many? Ten? A hundred? A thousand?

Bleep.

One thousand was a nice round number. He smiled and started to count.

Bleep. Nine hundred and ninety nine.

“Not dead yet?”

Michael looked up at his brother in the doorway “I’ll die when you dry out. How many hours clean are you?”

Gary checked his watch. “Twenty-three.”

“A personal best.” Nine hundred and eighty five.

Gary sat in the chair next to the bed and they sat in silence. Michael counted all the way down to nine hundred before he made his decision.

“Do you remember Raymond?”

“Who?”

“You know, that bloke that came to Lizzy’s wedding, the one that dad had a huge argument with.”

“Vaguely.”

“Said he was an old friend, he’d heard about Elizabeth and wanted to stop by and catch up with us all.”

“What about him?”

Michael thought for a moment (eight hundred and seventy three). “He’s our brother.”

“What?”

“I heard him and dad arguing.”

Bleeps eight hundred and seventy through to three hundred and twelve consisted of Michael telling Gary everything he’d found out since then about their older brother. They discussed it in detail, but both of them agreed they couldn’t remember him, despite having vivid, clear memories of their mother, who had left them at the same time.

“But then dad did fight so hard to keep her memory alive. Perhaps they’re not our memories at all, but his.”

“Is he still alive? Where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll ask dad.”

“I dare you.” Michael smiled at his younger brother and they both managed a small laugh.

Fiona returned to the room, claiming to have gone for a walk, and the three of them sat and talked about nothing. Michael continued to count all the while and as he reached a hundred, Fiona stood up.

“I, err, I want to see mum.”

“You’ll stay a few minutes more, won’t you?” Michael asked. Ninety seven.

Fiona sat back down, but no one could think of anything more to say and Gary and Fiona started to gather up their things to leave.

“Goodnight, dad.” Fifteen.

“Fiona, please, wait.”

“What?”

“You’ll ring your mother won’t you? You’ll let her know you’re on your way back?” Twelve.

Fiona nodded.

“Goodnight, bro.”

“Gary. Fi. Please.”

“What?” Gary asked bemused as Fiona watched from the doorway.

“Your hands.”

They both came over to the bed and took one of Michael’s hands each.

“Now what?”

“Just five more.”

“Five more what, dad?”

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

 

Bleep.

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

 

Jennifer rested her head against the soft skin of Reece’s chest. It was about the only thing she liked about him. She definitely didn’t like the post-coital fingering of her hair that he always indulged in, but she supposed she had no choice. What Reece wanted was the priority, she and Michael had decided that right at the beginning and right now, Reece wanted to snuggle.

As Reece rambled on in her ear, she stared at the wall at the far end of the room, at the poster of some glamour model pasted up. She looked vulnerable, weak, one finger hooked in the waistband of her short shorts, a finger on the other hand resting on her pouting lower lip and her nipples protruding through the wet cotton of the tight white t-shirt she was wearing.

But Jennifer saw something in her eyes, a small glint of something that she herself had had years before. The survival instinct. This girl wasn’t weak or vulnerable, she was strong and manipulative. She knew her strengths and she was playing them in order to survive. And according to the tabloid newspapers, this was one girl who was surviving.

Jennifer had been like that, once, a long time ago, before she’d married Michael and had Fiona. She’d started at Cromley’s as a PA, as Ernest’s PA, when she was fresh out of school, a position she’d held ever since, in fact.

She quickly clocked Michael as the richest candidate most likely to fall for her seductions and he had. Though he was a little older than her, she dated him for nearly two years before ‘accidentally’ falling pregnant and pulling him into a hasty marriage.

She hadn’t counted on actually falling in love with him, but she had, and ever since then she’d let him protect her, she’d let her survival instinct subside and placed all her faith in him.

But now he was dying and she was having to resurrect her survival skills, not only for herself, but for her young daughter as well.

She had convinced Reece that her marriage to Michael was over, that it would never be the same again, especially not now he was dying. That was the hardest part about it all, pretending that her relationship with her husband meant nothing. Even at his funeral, when he did die, she wouldn’t be allowed to grieve properly. Reece would be there, and he would think he knew how she really felt, and she would have to pretend that he was right, that burying Michael meant nothing to her, but the opportunity to spend more time with Reece.

University first, she had told him. Once you get university out of the way, once you’ve left, that’s when we’ll tell anyone. Michael would have been long dead by then, and Reece would be in a good position to settle down.

Jennifer’s mobile rang and Reece jumped up suddenly.

“Is that Fiona? Are they on their way?”

He started pulling on his clothes as Jennifer answered the phone.

“Fiona?” She smirked as she reached out for Reece, stopping him from pulling his jeans up, by reaching her hand into his boxers through the flap on the front. He sat down and grinned, collapsing backwards onto the bed. She grinned as she got the reaction from him she’d been hoping for. ‘Hello, darling!”

Reece braced himself against the bed as Jennifer stopped her rhythmic movement, though her hand kept her grip of him. “Just calm down, and tell me again. He what? Right, err. I’ll be there as soon as I’m finished up here.”

“What was that about?” Reece asked as Jennifer hung up.

She stared at the phone for a second and dropped it on the side. She looked down her arm, at her nephew’s hard cock throbbing in her hand and almost threw up. But then she caught sight of the glamour model on the wall, took a deep breath and plastered a broad grin onto her face.

“It was Fiona.” She said, resuming her stimulation of the young man. “Looks like we’ve finally got something to celebrate!”

“What?”’’

“It’s Michael.” She said leaning down to kiss him.

“What about him?”

Though her heart felt like it had shattered into a million pieces inside her, Jennifer gave a small giggle.

“He’s dead.”

 

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