Memories of a Murder – Chapter 22 & Epilogue

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Boxing Day, 2010

 

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

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

“Mum, where did you get that gun?”

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“So?”

“So, why’d you take the gun?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I did. I killed him.”

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

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

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

“I don’t need protecting from him.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Mum, you’re not going to – ”

“Harry!”

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

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

“Mum!” Ella shouted.

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

“I was just trying to protect you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He raped me.”

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

“What do you mean he raped you?”

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

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

“You killed him?” Frederick asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you took the knife?”

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

“Including the knife.”

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

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

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

“What about the blood on the handkerchief?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

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

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

“You’re going to stay?

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s right, Sir.”

“You have a nice Christmas?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

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

“Perhaps. But not right now.”

“Why not?”

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

“So?”

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

“Thank you.” He whispered back.

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

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

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

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

“Yours was better.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll let you know.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Saint Sebastian’s Church, Oxfordshire

June, 2011

 

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

“Couldn’t face sitting any closer?”

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

“I know how you feel.”

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

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

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

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

“Graham?”

“That’s the badger.”

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

“I know who you are, Harry.”

“Right. Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It hasn’t yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I was in America, I didn’t see…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m good, thanks, Mrs Cromwell.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Mum.” Victoria chastised her mother.

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

“Mum, we talked about this before.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*                *                *

 

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps.”

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

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

“Perhaps.” Harry smiled slyly at him.

“What happened to us, Harry?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You gave up?”

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

“Why didn’t you?”

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

“You never were a writer.” Frederick smirked.

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

“Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Reece? Freddie, he’s – ”

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

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

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

“It’s a no, then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry nodded back, silently, and led Tricia outside.

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

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

“Harry!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I bet you do. He’s cute.”

“What about you?”

“Well, I’m cute too.”

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

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

“I’ve been waiting, you know.”

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

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

“Tricia would go mad.”

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

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

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

“Sorry?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The End

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 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 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 12

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Harry could remember his own mother very clearly. He could remember flowers she liked. He could remember the way she would expect Vincent to be on the other end of the phone every time it rang for almost a year. He could even remember the way she would delicately set the table even when it was just the two of them having dinner.

But he couldn’t remember what she looked like when she smiled. Nor could he remember what she looked like when she was angry or sad or amused. The only thing he could remember about her appearance was when he found her slumped at the bottom of the stairs, her head at such an odd angle, her eyes glazed over and her mouth lolling open ever so slightly.

Every time he had tried to picture her since her death, he could only ever see that strange angular face. He’d discovered that once you’d seen a dead body, it was hard to get that image out of your mind. It could haunt you throughout your whole life, shape everything you do, and poison every thought.

“What were you doing in there?” Matthew’s voice snapped him out of the trance-like state he’d ended up in. Harry was leaning against the door to Ernest’s office, staring at the wood panelling opposite. He turned to Matthew, he was holding a rucksack limply at his side.

“I was just speaking to your grandfather about something.”

“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.”

Matthew smiled briefly. “Yeah, I guess I forgot about that. Still, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas anymore.”

“Yeah.” For a moment there was silence between them. “What’s in the bag? You playing Santa and filling everyone’s stockings?”

“Oh, no,” Matthew laughed nervously. “These are just some clothes.”

Harry looked towards the utility room where he had discovered Reece attacking Ella. “Odd time to do your laundry?”

“Excuse me?”

He gestured to the room at the end of the hall. “Like you say, it’s late.”

“Oh, right. This, err, this isn’t laundry.”

“You don’t say.”

Matthew pulled the pack onto his shoulder. “I’ve just come from there. It’s just a few of my shirts… Ella was washing them for me. I thought I’d come and get them, save her bringing them up.”

“Right.”

“So… what are you up to? Going back upstairs?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Right, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Harry looked at the bag on his shoulder, the trainers on his feet and shrugged. “Hey, it’s ok, I’ll walk up with you.”

“I’m… I’m not going back upstairs.” He patted his bag. “I’ve got everything I need.”

“Look, I know we hardly know each other and that you don’t really care what I think, but can I talk to you for ten minutes? If you don’t like what I have to say, then I’ll let you go.”

Matthew stared at him for a moment, attempting to assess if he would remain true to his word. “Fine,” he shrugged, “let’s talk.”

“Not here, somewhere private. Where we won’t get interrupted.”

“Ok. We’ll go to my room.” Matthew led the way down the corridor. “I think you know where it is.”

 

*                *                *

 

Harry sat down carefully on the end of Matthew’s bed as he closed the door and checked his watch. “Ten minutes.”

“What are you doing?” Matthew was stood over by his laptop, pressing some keys.

“Just making sure it’s turned off.” He tapped the top of the webcam.

“Right.” Harry nodded and looked around the room at the various posters of himself stuck up on the wall.

If it was possible the room was messier than it had been when Harry had first set eyes on it. The drawers on the cabinet had been pulled open and various piles of once folded clothes had been thrown casually onto the swivel chair which sat in the middle of the room, aimed halfway between the television and Matthew’s laptop.

Matthew dropped his rucksack on the floor by the door, pushed all the clothes off of the chair and sat down in it, before checking his watch again.

“Nine and a half minutes.”

“You know, considering the fact that you’ve… got my face plastered all over your walls, you’re a very hostile person.”

Matthew closed his eyes for a moment before giving a small smile of amusement. “I’m not a hostile person. I’m a private person, I don’t share my emotions all too well.”

“You shared them pretty well at dinner tonight.”

“I said I’m a private person, I’m not completely devoid of emotion. The stuff he was saying, what he said about Freddie. About you. I don’t know, I guess I just… I didn’t.”

“How did it make you feel?”

“I was angry, he – “

“No. You came out. To all your family, just like that, in one go. How did it make you feel?”

“Numb, I guess.” Matthew stood up and started to pace. “I didn’t even realise what I’d done at first. Then I got up here and… and I sat down and it was quiet and I started to think about it.”

“What did you think?”

“I don’t know, I guess I got scared. I mean, you’ve heard the way he speaks, that look in his eye, I thought he was going to kill me.”

Harry sighed quietly. “Frederick never came up here to see you, did he?”

“No.”

“So, what? You’ve been sat up here all alone for four hours? Without even talking to anyone, without even waiting to see what your family’s reaction might be, you just decide that the best thing is for you to leave?”

“I guess.”

Harry hesitated. He was worried about what Matthew might do, and he was the only one there. It shouldn’t be me talking to him about this. Of all people, it shouldn’t be me.

“You’ve been letting it fester, thinking about nothing else, of course you’re going to think the worse, but – ”

“But, if I stay – ”

“If you stay, maybe your grandfather will go on a crazy rampage with a shotgun and kill you. Or, he might decide he wants to see what all the fuss is about, pull on a pair of hot pink Lycra shorts and head out onto Hampstead Heath. The truth is, you can’t predict the future, you can’t know what’s going to happen before it happens, and running away from it is just the coward’s way out.”

“Maybe you’re right, maybe you can’t know the future. You can make an educated guess though, and I’m willing to bet that it’s more likely he has a shotgun in his closet than a pair of hot pink Lycra shorts.”

Harry sighed again and for a long moment there was silence as he tried to think of something else to say.

“You know the story of how Frederick came out?”

“Victoria ended up killing her own father that night, I think we all know the story.”

“I’m not talking about how he came out to his family, I’m talking about the first time he came out.”

“What do you mean?”

“Freddie was going out with a girl called Rebecca at the time. One night he got horrendously drunk and hit on their friend Graham. Anyway, Graham wasn’t so drunk and he turned him down. The next morning Frederick proposed to Rebecca.”

“Frederick got engaged?” Matthew laughed.

“Not quite, she turned him down. But he kept asking, almost once a week for six months, he’d ask, get rejected, and then ask again. Then one day she accepted and Frederick panicked. He told her that he was in love with Graham, that he was sorry, but he couldn’t be with her. He ended up not only breaking Rebecca’s heart, but he destroyed any potential relationship he might have had with Graham and ripped apart Rebecca and Graham’s friendship.”

“And this is supposed to make me feel better? It sounds pretty shitty to me.”

“It does, doesn’t it? But, you see, a couple of months after that Rebecca took Frederick shopping for something to wear on his first date with Graham. In the end the only reason Graham and Frederick even split up was because of Edward’s death. Graham couldn’t handle the pressure of it and he moved away, Rebecca followed and they’re sharing a flat in London somewhere. Freddie still talks to them, they’re some of his closest friends, he’s always on the phone to them.”

“So, what’s your point?”

“My point is… things change Matthew, and you can’t predict how they change. Frederick could have run away when he and Rebecca split up, but if he had, then he wouldn’t be who he is now, he wouldn’t have Rebecca and Graham as such close friends.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What happened when you came out?”

Harry stood up and made his way over to the door. “Look, I’ve got to go.”

“Now who’s running away?”

“I’m not running away, I’m…” He checked his watch and smiled. “My ten minutes are up.”

Matthew climbed onto his bed and sat with his head against the back rest. “Look, you win, I’ll stay. At least until Christmas is over.”

“Good. Then I definitely don’t need to stay.”

“Please?” Matthew looked up at Harry, his wide blue eyes shining with a sudden vulnerability. “I… I want to talk. I need to talk.”

Harry looked around at the posters on the wall, and then down at Matthew lying on his bed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe you should give one of your friends a call, talk to someone who really knows you.”

“I don’t have one.”

“You’re telling me that of all your friends there’s not one who knows you better than anyone?”

Matthew bowed his head. “I’m telling you that… I don’t have any friends.”

Harry let out a small involuntary laugh. “You’re kidding, right? Everybody has friends, what about the people in your class at school? The people you sit with at lunch, the ones who laugh at your jokes?”

“Well, sure,” Matthew shrugged, “I know people. There are people who were randomly picked to be in the same classes as me five years ago, but they’re not my friends.”

“Tell me about them.”

“What is there to tell?”

“Well, who’s the ringleader, the one in charge? The clever one? The slutty one? The funny one? How do you – or don’t you – fit in?”

Matthew frowned, seemingly trying to decide where to start. “There’s the two Rebeccas, Becky and Becks, they’ve been best friends for years, way back into infants. Except, that’s kind of changed in the last couple of years. Becks started going out with this guy, they’re still totally in love, and Becky lost a little weight and discovered just what a bottle of blonde hair dye and make up could do for a girl. She got a little attention, and now she’s a total drama queen, everything’s either about her, or happening because of her you know what I mean?”

Harry couldn’t help thinking of Frederick and smiling. “Yeah, I think I know the type. Who else is there?”

“Lucy, I guess, you’d call her the pretty one. She used to get all the attention, and then like I said Becky suddenly grew up and Lucy got pushed to one side. Anyway, now she’s become the bitchy, slutty one. She’s only really still in the group because of the seating plan our tutor draws up every year. Then Valentine – ”

“You have a friend called Valentine?”

“Pity the child born on a saint’s day to eccentric parents.”

“She’s lucky there wasn’t a Saint Trevor.” Harry laughed at his own joke.

“Anyway, Valentine, she’s pretty much the outcast, she’s had a rough life, like, really rough, Becky would probably kill for the kind of drama V’s had. Anyway, she’s not really a very serious person, it’s her way of coping I think, but you know, everything’s a joke with her.”

“I’m starting to notice a common theme.”

“That they’re all female? Yeah, I’m just not quite like the other guys for some reason.”

“So you don’t have any male friends at all?” Harry asked.

“There’s Jason, he’s going out with Becks, he’s, err, he’s really…” Matthew blushed and avoided eye contact with him.

“You can say it.”

“I guess I kind of… fancy him a little. He’s quite nice to me, but I think that’s only because I’m Becks’s friend, you know, keep in her good books. Then there’s his best friend, Dean, Becky’s on again off again drama fulfilling asshole of a boyfriend.”

“You know, I’m not sensing much love here.”

“No, he’s a total prick.”

Harry laughed a little “I didn’t just mean for Dean, I meant for all of them. It doesn’t sound like you have a very high opinion of any of them.”

“They’re all nice enough for what they are.”

“And what’s that?”

“Superficial. None of them know what it’s like to have to be so guarded all the time, they can relax, they can be themselves. They don’t have a care in the world.”

“They don’t know you’re gay?”

Matthew shook his head. “I don’t trust them.”

“Why not?”

“I see the way they treat each other, the constant bitching behind each other’s backs, telling each other’s secrets to anyone who’ll listen. I just don’t trust them not to tell the wrong person about me. My life would be a living hell.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“It wasn’t that long ago you were at school, can you imagine walking into the PE changing rooms with everyone having just found out you’re gay? They’re hardly going to lay out the red carpet for you.”

“Point taken.”

“It’s no big deal, they’re just some people I see at school. They all go out with each other after school. They don’t invite me, I don’t invite myself.”

Harry moved away from the door and sat on the end of the bed again. “Well, the way you put it, I don’t think you’re missing out on too much. From the sounds of it, they’re not really a nice bunch of people to be around.”

“See, now, I feel bad.” He rubbed at his eyes a little. “They’re not bad people, they’re lovely, all of them – except Dean, I guess – I adore being around them.”

“Well, there you go then, you do have people to talk to, ring one of your friends, have a big, deep and meaningful and a cry, it’ll do you the world of good.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not? I thought you said they were all lovely people?”

“They are, I guess. It’s not them, it’s me.”

“You?”

“I’m scared. I don’t want to risk losing anyone by telling them I’m gay.” The smallest of tears started to appear in the corners of Matthew’s eyes. “So, I have to pretend to be straight, to be something I’m not. That means I can’t let my guard down for one second, in case someone realises. I spend all day at school, keeping myself at a distance from everyone, and then I get home and I have to raise my guard even more and it’s so hard and I don’t think I can do it anymore.”

By now tears were streaming down his face and Harry reached out to comfort him. He slowly patted the top end of his calf muscle, smoothing the crease in his jeans. “Hey, come on, it’s alright, you’ve taken a big step tonight. You came out to your family, you’ve got to admit that’s got to be harder than coming out to your friends.”

His sniffling started to subside, and he looked up at Harry. For a moment their eyes locked together before his gaze shifted to Harry’s now stationary hand on his outstretched leg. Harry hastily pulled it away.

“Listen to me,” he said, “as soon as Christmas is out of the way, you are going to invite one of your friends – all of your friends over, tell them who you are, let them know the real you, it’ll be such a weight off your shoulders, I promise you.”

Matthew smiled gently at him. “Thank you, Harry.”

“Hey, it’s nothing.” Harry tried to act casually as he stood up and started to look through his CD collection. “So… apart from this Jason guy – who if he is going out with one of your friends – is totally off limits, is there any other special guy in your life.”

“I don’t really fancy him, like I said, he’s just nice to me.”

“And you blush over every bloke who’s nice to you, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Matthew shrugged, “he’s the only one who is. Most of my friends are girls, apart from Dean and Jason. And Dean’s a –”

“A prick, right, yeah.”

“You’re the only other guy I’ve had a conversation with lately.”

He stood up and slowly walked over to face him, and as he did, Harry noticed again all the posters of himself adorning the wall.

“Matthew, I don’t think you should – ”

“A day ago, you were just some Hollywood Superstar dating leading lady after leading lady. Tonight you’re a gay man, and not only are you in England, but you’re spending the first few minutes of Christmas Day in my bedroom. I’ve come this close, you’ve got to give me at least one kiss.”

Harry stared into his crystal blue eyes and found himself unable to speak as he moved in closer to him. He slipped one hand on the back of his head and pulled himself up a little so that their lips met. A shiver shot down Harry’s spine as Matthew’s soft unblemished lips began to slowly massage his. Almost instantly, Harry was hard and as he pulled Matthew in to him, applying pressure, relieving the tension a little, he discovered that the teenager was even harder. Their bodies touched, all the way down from their lips to their toes, and it felt so different, to Harry, so new and fresh to be kissing someone other than Frederick.

The squeak of the door handle suddenly interrupted them, and Harry pulled his head away from Matthew, breaking the kiss. Their bodies stayed in contact, Harry’s fingers tied up in the belt loops of Matthew’s jeans, Matthew’s running through Harry’s hair.

Harry watched, wide eyed in terror at the down turned handle as the door was pushed hard against the frame, creating a muffled thud. The door remained closed.

“I locked it.” Matthew whispered quietly.

“Matthew? Matthew, are you awake?” Frederick’s voice sounded from the other side, and Harry quickly covered Matthew’s open mouth to stop him from answering. Matthew nodded at him and Harry slowly removed his hand.

They both listened intently, and it wasn’t until Harry heard Frederick’s footsteps moving away from the door that he realised he’d been holding his breath, and let out a huge sigh of relief.

He quickly moved over to the door and listened to it for a moment. “It’s alright, I think he’s gone.”

Matthew sat on the edge of his bed and looked at him. “Why didn’t you want him to know you were here?”

“Considering what we were doing, I don’t think that would have been a good idea, do you?”

“He didn’t have to know,” Matthew shrugged, “for all he knew you were just up here talking to me about stuff.”

“Maybe I just didn’t want to see him, ok?”

“I thought there was something up. You two haven’t seemed right all night, even before I knew you were a couple. You looked pissed off with each other, and now you’re kissing other men.”

“That…” Harry pointed a finger at him. “That, was a mistake.”

“It was nice.”

“It’s over. Forget it.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, I just snogged Harry Hicks!”

“Do you want to keep your voice down?”

Matthew smiled, but said nothing. Harry sat next to him, side by side, on the edge of the bed, and let his head drop into his hands. After a moment, Matthew turned to him. “Is it because you pretend you’re straight?”

“What?”

“Is that why he’s pissed off with you? I mean, if I was sleeping with the sexiest man in Hollywood, I’d want to tell anyone and everyone.”

“You realise what would happen if I did come out, right? It would totally ruin my career.”

“So? I’ve read the biography, I know you never wanted to be an actor why should you care?”

“I never had a huge ambition to be gay either, but that’s who I am, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

“Ok,” Matthew frowned, “you’re contradicting yourself quite a lot here. First of all you’re proud that you’re gay, but you won’t tell anyone because it’ll ruin your career, despite the fact that you came out to a dozen or so people tonight, and only one crabby old dude took offence to it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he’s not really your target audience.”

“It’s different, not everyone’s as accepting as the rest of your family.”

“Are you kidding me? You call this lot accepting? Everybody bickers over every little thing in this house. Even you, you’ve only been here a couple of hours and you’re already not talking to Frederick.”

“I’m not not-talking to him,” Harry sighed, “I just… we had an argument.”

“What about?”

Harry stared at him for a moment, trying to decide if he really wanted to share the more intimate details of his love life with this kid. He had already shared too much. “I suppose you’re going to find out sooner or later.”

“Damn straight,” he smiled, “you can’t keep a secret in this house.”

“I found out tonight that Frederick slept with someone else, while he was with me.”

Matthew’s eyes widened. “Who? Was it someone famous?”

“It was Robert.”

“Redford?”

“Forrester. The man currently sleeping with your aunt.”

“Oh.” His face fell in disappointment, before the implications of what Harry had said began to sink in. “Oh!”

“Yeah. I guess, you could say we ‘were on a break’, I don’t know, but we’d had an argument, just before he came over here a few months back. Met him at Cromley’s, in fact Robert fucked him right on your grandfather’s desk.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, it was a bit of a shock. I mean, we’ve both had other partners, you know? Frederick’s gone out and gotten drunk with a few of his friends before, woken up in one of their beds.”

“And you’re ok with that?”

“It’s just something he does. I know he loves me, but sometimes, you can’t help it, you just get horny, I get it. I’ve only ever done it the once, I was on a shoot out in Nevada in the desert. We’d been in out there for days, and we were staying in these shabby little trailers. Anyway, one night Tom – umm, one of my co-stars and I, we were lonely, we spent the night together.”

“Wow, that’s…” Matthew seemed lost for words. “I mean that’s really… liberal.”

“It was a two week fling, once the shoot was over he went back home to his wife and kid, I went back to Frederick.”

“Well, what made this different? You know, him and Robert?”

“He never told me about it. I told him about Nevada, he told me about his flings. We shared notes, we told each other what we got up to… it was a turn on.”

“So, you’re worried that it meant something? That the reason he didn’t tell you was because he felt guilty? That he enjoyed it too much?”

“That’s exactly it. Robert fucked him and he enjoyed it.”

Matthew’s frown deepened. “Look, I might be being stupid here, but I still don’t get this. Why would he enjoy being with Robert more than any other guy?”

Harry sighed deeply. “Frederick’s never had… sex like that before, at least he hadn’t. He always said he couldn’t bring himself to let someone… I didn’t mind. I enjoy both, so we just did it that way all the time. Him on top.”

“But he let Robert?”

“And he enjoyed it.” Harry could feel a small tear forming in the corner of his eye. “But he didn’t tell me, because he loved the fact that he had this power over me. He was the one fucking me, night after night, he felt powerful, like he owned me. I was his bitch, and he didn’t want to let that go. I guess, I just realised tonight, all the stuff he’s ever done, it’s all been to keep me under his control. He’s writing a movie for me, literally telling me what I’m going to say, so I turn down job after job. He encourages me to come out, because he knows that I won’t, but that it’ll make me feel guilty. I’ve just been so stupid.”

Harry was really starting to cry now and Matthew leaned in to hug him. They held each other tightly and Harry remembered the kiss they’d shared minutes before. Matthew’s soft tongue, plunging into his mouth with a fresh excitement, the softness of the skin of a young man, that sweet, fruity smell of the hair gel in his hair.

Matthew pulled away from him. “If you ask me, Frederick’s really stupid. I’d let you fuck me.”

And that was it. The moment Matthew had said those words, Harry knew what was going to happen. There was no denying it, no escaping.

“What?”

“I said I’d let you fuck me. You’re intelligent, gorgeous and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. You’re also a Hollywood megastar and filthy rich at that. Why not?” He rubbed his hand across Harry’s thigh.

Why not? Matthew was a young, gorgeous guy and Harry was here, on his bed, late at night and there was an incredible attraction between them. And damn it, I’m horny. He wants me to fuck him and I want to fuck him. Oh, God, I want to fuck him. 

Matthew pulled himself up and stood in front of Harry. He grabbed hold of the bottom of his top and quickly and expertly pulled it over his head. Harry looked at his milky white, slender, tender torso, noting how it was completely different to Frederick’s ripped, sun-kissed six pack.

“I know I haven’t exactly been with a lot of guys… well, you’re the only one I’ve even kissed… but that kiss… that was amazing.”

“It really was.” But I can’t just throw away everything I have with Frederick over one kiss.

Harry looked back over at the door and sighed. He knew that if he went back to his room right now, Frederick would be waiting in bed, maybe reading a book. They would talk, and they would both apologise for shouting at each other and they would make love and everything would be ok.

Matthew unbuttoned the top button on his jeans and softly gripped the zipper on his fly. “Do you want to or not?”

 

*                *                *

 

Harry dozed quietly and held him in his arms, both of them relaxed in the soft warm afterglow of a frenetic sex session. Both of them naked, both of them happy.

“Wow, you were right.” He whispered softly.

“You enjoyed it then?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re glad we did it, then?” Harry asked.

“Yeah.” Matthew turned his face to Harry’s and smiled. “Wow, wait until I tell everyone at school.”

“School?” Harry pulled back from him a little. “This question is probably coming a little later than it should have, but… how old are you?”

“Sixteen. Last week. Don’t worry, we’re legal.”

“It might be legal, I don’t know if it’s exactly moral, though.” He pulled himself up and stepped over Matthew. He reached out a hand and pulled the condom from Harry’s softening penis.

“Can I keep this?”

“Oh, that’s disgusting.” Harry frowned.

He looked at the used latex as Harry pulled on my boxer shorts. “Maybe you’re right.” He dropped it on the floor, leant back in his bed and rested his head on his hands. “Wait until Granddad finds out what we did.”

“You’re going to tell him? You want to wait until I’m out of the country?”

“I might not go into too much graphic detail, but I think I should talk to him.” He pulled himself out of his bed and grappled around on the floor for his clothes. Harry looked at his pert, smooth bum bobbing in the air and smiled.

“You’re going down now? It’s one o’clock in the morning.”

“He’ll still be up, the man’s a total insomniac.”

“You want me to come with you?”

“I don’t think that’ll go down too well, meeting the new boyfriend and all that.”

“Listen, Matthew, I think we should talk. Tonight wasn’t about… I’m not…”

“It’s alright, Harry, I understand. You’re with Frederick, I get that. But still, I need to talk to him.”

He slipped on a pullover and moved over to the door.

They both quietly looked around the landing to check it was empty before stepping out onto it. They made their way down the stairs in silence until they reached the first floor. Matthew smiled nervously at him and turned to go down the last flight. Harry pulled him in close, kissed him quickly for luck and then grinned and let him go, before stepping on the landing towards the bedroom he was sharing with Frederick.

Harry reached the door, placed his hand on the handle, and stopped. He quickly turned back around and followed Matthew down the stairs to the ground floor.

At the bottom of the stairs, he almost stood on a crumpled piece of white cloth. He bent down and picked it up. In the dim light he could just see the initials R.F. embroidered in the corner and there was a smear of what looked like blood across the centre. He smiled. Someone had not only punched Robert, but they’d drawn blood. Harry found himself hoping that it had been Frederick. He stuffed the handkerchief into his pocket and tiptoed down the corridor towards Ernest’s office.

Somewhere below him, he heard a loud clunking noise from the pipes. It echoed loudly in the silence of the rest of the house. Ahead of him, was a soft orange glow, spilling out from the crack under the door to the study, bathing Matthew’s shins in amber.

Matthew was stood in front of the door, nervously rubbing his index finger. He stepped back from it and turned to move away. He caught sight of Harry at the end of the corridor and stopped walking. Harry nodded to him across the darkened hallway to reassure him and Matthew nodded back. He turned to the door, grabbed hold of the handle and pushed the door open.

He stepped in, Harry smiled briefly and turned to go, but stopped when he saw Matthew back out of the room.

“Harry. Harry!”

“What?”

“Harry, it’s…”

“What is it?” He moved down the corridor and saw Ernest, in his office slumped over his desk, a small pool of blood on his back. He moved in and quickly felt for a pulse.

Harry glanced at the gun lying on the desk and then looked Matthew in the eyes. “He’s been shot. He’s dead.”

 

 

Read the next chapter here

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 9

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Cromwell Family Home, London

August, 1971

 

Gary ran up to his father as he struggled to get through the door with his briefcase. “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” He screamed with delight.

Ernest cracked a big grin, dropped his briefcase by the door and scooped his youngest son up in his arms. “There’s my little soldier! Have you been a good boy for mummy today?”

“I’m always a good boy,” Gary giggled, and then added conspiratorially, “Michael and Lizzybet are the naughty ones.”

“Oh, I see. Where’s – ”

“Ray!” Gary screamed in his father’s ear, causing Ernest to flinch, as Raymond followed his father through the door. Gary squirmed in his father’s arms until Ernest put him down, and then ran over to his older brother and hugged his legs. “Is Ray staying for dinner, daddy?”

“Better than that! We’re all going out for dinner!”

Gary grinned as his mother stepped through the door from the dining room. “Oh, we are, are we?” She asked. “Well, I guess it’s a good job that I’ve not started anything yet.”

“Sorry, love, I didn’t think.” He smiled, giving Doreen a kiss on the cheek.

“Hmm, would have been nice for a phone call.”

“Sorry, mum,” Raymond flashed a toothy grin at her, “that was kind of my fault, I insisted on dragging dad down the pub for a drink, I guess it fogged our minds a little.”

“You’ve been drinking?” Doreen frowned. “And you’ve driven home? How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want you driving when you’ve had a drink, it’s not safe.”

“You and your not safes. These modern cars are built so well, it’s nearly impossible to crash in them.”

“Well, how do you explain the Thompson’s write-off down the road, then?”

“Well… if you’re going to drive like he does, of course you’re going to have an accident.”

“So, where are we going then?” Doreen changed the subject.

“New Italian in town,” Raymond smiled, “my treat.”

“What have we done to deserve that?”

Ernest looked at Raymond and smiled. “Why don’t you get the other two? I want to tell the whole family.”

“Well, then you’re going to have to come in here,” Doreen motioned to the dining room, “Lizzy and Michael are in the middle of a very tense Snakes and Ladders tournament.”

She led the three boys into the dining room and they sat themselves down around Elizabeth and Michael. Elizabeth said nothing as her father kissed her on the cheek, she was too busy rolling the die.

“Ok then, listen up, I’ve got something important to tell you all – ”

“No!” Michael shouted and Elizabeth giggled as she moved her piece up a long ladder to the top row, just two spaces before the end. Michael quickly rolled and moved his piece to one space behind Elizabeth’s. Until then, he had been certain he was going to win.

“Let’s just wait until the game’s over, hey, honey?” Doreen smiled, placing a hand on her husband’s. Elizabeth and Michael both grinned as Elizabeth rolled a three.

“I won!” Elizabeth shouted.

“No, you didn’t.” Michael pouted. “You have to roll the ‘zact number.”

“That’s not the rules!” Elizabeth scrunched up her face. “I won and I beat you!”

“Dad! Tell her! Tell her she has to be ‘zact!”

“Michael, it’s only a game.” Doreen said with the lazy comfort of a tired parent. Raymond, on the other hand, placed an arm around his brother’s shoulder.

“Look at it this way, little man, you haven’t been beaten, you haven’t lost. You’ve come second and there’s no shame in that.”

“Err, honey,” Doreen interrupted, “he didn’t come second. Gary already won.”

“You mean this fight is all about second place?” Ernest picked up the board game and started to put it away. “Come on, help me clear it up, daddy’s got some news.”

“What is it then? This news? Careful with your elbows.” Doreen groaned as Gary climbed awkwardly onto her lap.

“I’m retiring.”

“And I’ve been promoted.” Raymond gave his mother a big grin.

Doreen looked between them surprised, while the children just stared at them, unsure of what it meant. “You hear that kids? Daddy’s going to be at home more, he’ll be able to spend more time with us, isn’t that great?”

The children gave big grins at the thought of being able to play games with their father all day long.

“I knew you’d be happy for us.” Ernest smiled.

“Well, are you sure, Ernest?” Doreen asked.

“Of course, I’m sure, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.” He frowned.

“Then how come this is the first I’ve heard of it?”

Sensing something brewing, Raymond picked Elizabeth up in his arms. “I’ll go get the guys ready for dinner, can’t go out not looking our best can we?”

Gary and Michael followed their older brother out of the room and Ernest sat in a chair opposite Doreen.

“I didn’t want to get your hopes up. I didn’t know if Ray would want to do it, and I’m not letting someone who’s not part of this family take control of the business.”

“You think he’s ready?”

“Of course he’s ready, he’s a young man, he’s going to want to start a family soon. He needs some money behind him, some experience. And I’ll still be around if he needs any help.”

“But otherwise you’re hands off?” Doreen asked tentatively.

“Absolutely.” Ernest smiled and briefly kissed her on the lips. “You know what this means of course?”

“What’s that?”

“We can finally get that place in the country you’re always on about, nice big sweeping drive, too many rooms to count – ”

“Too many to clean.” Doreen smiled.

“And a cleaner, absolutely! We can just spend our days together, with our children. We can read to them, play with them. Then when they’re off at school, we can – I don’t know, learn to play croquet or go on holidays in France or Spain!”

“Oh, Ernest!” Doreen smiled broadly and hugged her husband, she’d been wanting to get out of the city for an age. “When?”

“It’s my last day tomorrow. We start house hunting on Saturday.”

Doreen grinned and passionately kissed her husband.

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

December, 1971

 

“Stop eating so quickly, you’ll give yourself indigestion.” Doreen cautioned Ernest as he wolfed down the sausages and creamy mash she’d prepared earlier in the day.

“I told you,” he said taking a gulp of milk, “I’ve got that new lawyer coming to visit me today, Lloyd Gregory.”

“Well, I don’t get why he’s coming to see you, you’re not anything to do with that business anymore.”

“Maybe it’s Gregory Lloyd… you know, I really wish people wouldn’t use Christian names as surnames, it all gets very confusing.”

“Are you listening to me?” Doreen asked as she cut up the sausages on Gary’s plate.

“Of course I am, honey. And he’s not coming to talk to me about the business. Well, not directly. We’ve just bought this place,” he gestured to the house around them with his fork, “and we’re just checking where we are with my accounts and all that.”

“This Lloyd fellow, an accountant as well as a lawyer, is he?”

“Of course he’s not,” Ernest rolled his eyes, “I just find all that stuff incredibly boring, so I sent him to sort it all out and then just report back to me.”

“So what happened to that other lawyer, that Jones fellow?”

“Oh, he’s still doing all the business stuff, but I told him I’d take on this protégée of his to do all my personal dealings, give him some experience.”

“Well, if he’s seen all the accounts,” Doreen began as the doorbell rang, “ask him if we can afford that cleaner you’ve been promising me.”

“I will, I will.” Ernest smiled as he got up from the table.

“I mean it Ernest,” Doreen shouted after him, “even with your help, I can’t look after these three and clean this house.”

Ernest looked back at the table and smiled at his young family, before slipping out and pulling open the front door.

“Ah! Gregory, isn’t it?” Ernest shook his hand. “Good to meet you. You found us all right, then?”

“Oh, yes, the directions were perfect. Mr Cromwell, have you – ”

“Oh, please! Call me Ernest.”

“Right.” Gregory smiled. He’d always been taught to call his clients by their last name, and since he’d started each one of them had insisted he call them by their first. “Ernest, have you got anywhere where we can go over some of this stuff? I’ve got something important to bring to your attention.”

“Oh?” Ernest seemed unconcerned as he shut the door behind Gregory and then led him down the corridor towards his office. “Actually, Gregory, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“Of course.” Gregory smiled as he settled into the chair that Ernest had indicated.

“The wife’s been nagging about getting a cleaner in, apparently the house is too big for her to clean by herself.” He chuckled. “So, I was wondering, you’ve seen my most recent accounts after all, would it be financially feasible for me to hire a cleaner, perhaps a live-in maid? I’m not even sure how much that would cost.”

“Actually, Mr – Ernest, it was the accounts that I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Well, if there’s not enough money, I’ll just take a bigger cut from Cromley’s. That’s what it’s there for after all, isn’t it?”

“When I was checking your accounts I noticed that a few times the payment from Cromley’s into your personal account has been a little… unusual.”

“How do you mean unusual?” Ernest asked with a frown.

“Well, if you’ll look here,” Gregory pulled out some papers, “the payment at the beginning of October was four days late. November’s payment was staggered, half on the first, the rest almost a week later. And December’s payment still hasn’t appeared.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Well, I wanted to come prepared, I wanted to know everything before I came to see you, so I looked into the company accounts and it appears that there’s a… deficiency.”

“A deficiency? You mean Cromley’s isn’t making a profit?”

“Oh, Cromley’s is making a healthy profit, it just seems there’s a hole in them.”

“A hole?”

“A canyon, really.” Gregory said.

“How come no one’s noticed before?”

“It’s very well covered, I mean, the only reason I found it was because I was looking for it. If they hadn’t been paying you so oddly, it might never have been discovered.”

“So, where’s it gone?”

“Someone has been making some very dubious investments, buying shares in companies that are almost bankrupt then getting rid of them for half as much as they were bought.”

“Who is someone?” Ernest asked, already filled with dread at the thought of the answer.

“Raymond.”

“Rubbish!” Ernest cried. “He would never, he couldn’t – ”

“It’s all right here, Ernest.” Gregory slid the papers across the desk to him.

Ernest slid into his chair and held his head in his hands. “How big is this hole? I mean, how much are we talking here?”

Gregory unfolded a small slip of paper and handed it to Ernest, and then watched in amazement as his face got redder and redder with every digit he counted.

 

January, 1972

 

A loud crack of thunder rumbled across the sky as the corridor filled with a bright light. Doreen chuckled as she heard a small squeal from Elizabeth’s room, just down the corridor from her. She shut Michael’s door behind her and headed downstairs where Pat was sitting on a couch in the lounge.

“That’s Michael off to sleep, we can relax now.”

“As relaxed as you can be in this weather.”

“Come now,” Doreen smiled as she poured two drinks, “don’t tell me you’re scared of thunder and lightning as well?”

“No, of course not.” Pat smiled. “It just puts me on edge, I always think bad things are going to happen.”

“Trust me, nothing bad is going to happen, it’s just the two of us, having a quiet drink.”

“You know, Mrs Cromwell –” Pat started as she refilled their wine glasses.

“Doreen.”

“Right. I just wanted to say thank you, you know, for everything that you’ve done for me, the job and –”

“Don’t be silly. The moment Ernest started talking about hiring someone I thought of you. You were always very good with the kids, they love you. It’s just a shame things didn’t work out with you and Raymond.”

“Yeah,” Pat smiled uncomfortably, fingering the top of her wine glass, “that’s something else I wanted to talk about.”

“Oh?” Doreen gave Pat a hopeful grin.

“I don’t know what you thought might happen between me and him when I came to work here, but I feel like I ought to tell you. I’m seeing somebody else.”

“Oh.”

“In fact, we’re engaged, just last night.” She stretched out her hand and showed Doreen her engagement ring.

“Oh, well, that’s great,” Doreen plastered a smile onto her face, a false sweetness in her voice, “really, that’s fantastic news. How come we’ve never met him?”

“I always felt a little uncomfortable, you know, because of Raymond. Beside Campbell is –“

“Campbell?”

“He’s American. He’s a little younger than me.”

“How much younger?”

“Three years.”

“Three years?” Doreen laughed. “Honey, that’s nothing, Ernie’s four years younger than me. If anyone says anything, you send them to me, I’ll sort them out.”

“Four years?” Pat smiled, slightly comforted, but stopped as she remembered something Raymond had told her years previously. “Raymond said you were nineteen when you had him.”

Doreen swallowed the last of her drink. “I was.”

“Oh, so Ernest’s not Ray’s father? Or – ” She tailed off as Doreen quietly poured them each another drink. “Oh.”

“It was a different time, there – ”

“Honestly, Doreen, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“No, no, it’s alright. I want to.” Doreen took a deep breath. “Like I said, it was a different time, the height of the war. All the boys that I’d gone to school with were either at war or dead or in trouble with the police. We lived on the edge of a small village, there was no one my age for me to talk to and my dad was pressuring me to find a husband. And then there was Ernest. Well, you’ve met him, he’s a handsome man.”

“But he was just a boy.”

“He was fifteen. And like I said, there was no one my age to talk to, and he just… he seemed so grown up. He’d been through a lot, his mum had died and his dad was at war, he was all alone. We both were.”

Pat shifted uncomfortably. “Still, I don’t know if I could…”

“He was very tall for his age.”

They looked at each other, before they both burst into laughter.

“Oh, Doreen,” Pat wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes, “I’m so glad I’m here.”

“So am I. Stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, with no one else to talk to – lucky there aren’t any fourteen year old boys around!”

They both cackled with laughter again, nearly spilling their wine. A loud scream burst through the house as another clap of thunder surrounded them. “Perhaps I ought to go and check on Elizabeth.”

“I’ll come with you,” Pat smiled as she set down her drink, “it’ll help me catch my breath back.”

Doreen led Pat up the stairs, just as Elizabeth came running from her room.

“Mummy! Mummy!” Elizabeth cried, launching herself at her mother.

“Is she ever going to shut up?” Michael asked, rubbing his eyes as he came from his bedroom. “I’m never going to get any sleep.”

“Shut up!” Elizabeth shouted, glaring at her brother.

“It is a scream that could wake the dead, isn’t it?” Pat agreed with Michael.

Doreen frowned. “It didn’t wake Gary though. I think I’d better check he’s ok.”

“Oh, I’ll do it, you get these two back to bed.” Pat smiled at Doreen and slipped through the door to Gary’s bedroom.

Michael moved back to his own bedroom and Doreen led Elizabeth into hers. “There you go, honey, the thunder’s not going to hurt you.”

“Mummy, what is it?”

“What’s what, sweetheart?”

“Thunder? Is God angry?”

“No, no,” Doreen said, laughing, “of course not! You remember when daddy’s hungry? And his stomach growls?” Elizabeth nodded. “Well, that’s what thunder is. It’s just the noise God makes when he’s hungry. It’s nothing to be scared of, ok?”

“Ok.” Elizabeth smiled back.

“So, just remember that when you hear thunder – ”

“Doreen! Doreen! Get in here!” Pat’s panicked cries came from down the hall.

“Wait here, honey.” Doreen rushed out of Elizabeth’s room and into Gary’s, where Pat was stood over him. He was jerking uncontrollably.

“It’s Gary,” Pat stuttered, “he was just lying there and then he started… I don’t know he started juddering and I can’t get him to stop.”

Doreen stooped down and picked up her son. “He’s gone blue, what is it?”

“I don’t know.” Pat cried. “I’ll ring an ambulance.”

“No.”

“No?” Pat couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere, Pat, I’ve lived here three and a half months and I still get lost. An ambulance driver in the middle of night, in this weather is just going to be hopeless.”

“So what? We just let him spasm?”

“No, no,” Doreen headed quickly to the door carrying Gary, and Pat followed her, “you stay here and look after the other two, I’ll drive him into town to the hospital.”

“What?” Pat followed Doreen down the stairs. “You’ve been drinking.”

“I’ve only had a small one,” Doreen said as she quickly picked up her jacket, “besides, you can’t drive.”

“Doreen, what about Ernest?”

“Ring him, let him know that we’re all fine, but that he needs to meet me down the hospital. As soon as possible.”

“Doreen, you can’t – ”

“Pat,” Doreen manoeuvred herself out of the door into the rain, “we’ll be fine. I promise.”

 

February, 1972

 

Ernest quietly shut the door to his study behind him. It was exactly as he’d left it just two weeks previously. That morning he had been running late, so he’d quickly grabbed some toast from the kitchen and thrown on a little marmalade as he prepared his briefcase. On the side of the desk was a small plate, holding the stale crust that he had left behind.

The bright afternoon sunlight shone through the window onto the small pile of papers that he’d forgotten to take with him. It doesn’t matter, he’d told himself when he realised on his drive to work. He would be able to come home at lunchtime and pick them up. They weren’t urgent. Of course, he’d been distracted when he’d needed to call an emergency meeting and hadn’t made it home.

He looked at his diary on the desk, open on 20th January, he hadn’t had time to even turn the page that morning. That was how late he was, that’s how quickly he needed to be out of the house. No time to turn the page on a diary, no time to gently wake his wife and wish her a good day.

No time to say goodbye.

Ernest sat at the desk and lazily turned the pages of the diary, two full weeks passing in a flicker of a second. If only he’d been able to do that with the last fortnight, if only he could have somehow withdrawn from it all and come back when the pain had gone.

He’d been just about to leave the office when Pat had rung him to tell him what was happening. Doreen’s driving? In this weather? He’d asked, painfully aware that even when both she and the weather were calm, Doreen wasn’t the most confident of drivers.

He had dashed to his car, and a short ten minutes later he was less than half a mile out of the car park. Everyone had slowed down because of the torrential rainfall, and Ernest was crawling down the hill, unable to do anything but watch the rain speed along a hell of a lot faster than him.

The traffic report on the radio warned people off driving in general, but if they absolutely had to drive anywhere, it was suggested they avoid the main dual carriageway due to an accident that had congested up the eastbound lanes and all the surrounding area. Although nowhere near any of the effected roads, Ernest preferred to blame the accident for slowing him up, rather than the flooded road ahead, it was much easier to blame a person than it was a force of nature.

“Idiot drivers.” He’d muttered to himself, and then thought no more of the crash.

Once he had managed to get past the roundabout at the bottom of the hill, it hadn’t taken him much longer to reach the hospital. He’d sprinted through the car park, through the downpour and skidded to a halt at the reception desk, all the time keeping an eye out for Doreen.

The queue was almost as long as the queue coming down the hill, and the ten minutes it took to reach the front felt like an eternity to the already anxious Ernest.

He made himself feel better by berating the woman on the desk for all the failings of the NHS before learning from her that no child by the name of Gary Cromwell had been brought in.

“In fact,” the receptionist had added, “no children have been checked in since this afternoon, and they’ve all made it home safely now.”

He started to berate her again. Of course Doreen and Gary would be here by now, there weren’t any other hospitals nearby, and none of the roads she would have taken would have been blocked, in fact, she’d have been lucky to even meet another car. Unless…

In the two seconds between his sentence suddenly trailing off and the emergency department doors being smashed open, Ernest had remembered teasing his wife about her driving anxieties.

“You’ve never driven on the fast road?”

                  “Never,” she’d smiled, “they’re far too dangerous.”

                  “But they make driving so much quicker.”

                  “They make driving so much more dangerous.”

                  “What if you were late for a hair appointment in town? Would you use it then?”

                  “No, I would use the back roads and be late.”

                  “What if you were late meeting me?” Ernest had smirked.

                  “I would feel worse for keeping the stylist waiting.” Doreen had laughed and given him a quick peck on the lips.

                  “What if it was an emergency? What if you needed to get one of the kids to hospital?”

                  Doreen had paused for a moment, and then looked her husband in the eye. “If it was that urgent, then I guess, yes, I would use them.”

He swivelled around as the doors burst open and two paramedics wheeled a gurney in. They shouted all sorts of statistics to the accompanying doctor, but the only detail Ernest had noticed, was the dry trickle of blood running down his lover’s face.

That was the moment his world had changed, that was the moment his insides had twisted and torn and melted down into nothingness.

Ernest sighed, removed his glasses and buried his head in his hands. A moment later there was a small tap on the door and he leant back in his chair and stared at it. He knew who was on the other side, he had been expecting it. He was ready for it.

He said nothing, but the door slowly opened anyway and Raymond gingerly made his way into the room.

“Dad, I… how are you coping?”

“How do you think?”

“I would think that you’re concerned about your ill young son. Grieving for the woman you loved. Scared about how you’re going to raise three children on your own. I would think all of that if you’d actually spoken to any of us, if you’d bothered to let us in. As it is, I don’t know how you’re feeling.”

“I buried my wife today, Raymond. I should have been celebrating her birthday with her in a fancy restaurant, slowly pickling ourselves on red wine. Instead, I’m alone and she’s… dead!” Ernest spat out the last word in disgust.

“It’s been hard for all of us, Dad, none of us were expecting it.”

“I keep looking for someone to blame.” Ernest stood up and looked out of his window onto the lawn outside. “I keep looking for some… get out clause. Bring her back.”

“That’s only natural.”

“I keep asking myself, what if I hadn’t stayed late at the office? What if I hadn’t moved us out to this damn house in the middle of nowhere? What if Gary hadn’t been ill?”

“How is Gary? What did the doctors say?”

Ernest shrugged. “They’re not sure what’s wrong with him. They don’t think it’s serious, told us to go back if he shows any unusual symptoms. In the meantime they’re performing some tests, they’ll get in touch with us when they know something.”

“That’s good, isn’t it? They don’t think it’s serious.”

There was a long pause in which Raymond watched the back of his father, tensed at the window. “Dad, if you want to talk…”

“Talk…” Ernest repeated quietly. “I keep looking for someone to blame, you know.”

“Me too.”

“Really?” He turned to face his son. “You found anyone yet?”

Raymond shrugged. “Of course not, it was just a tragic accident. There’s no one to blame.”

“I found someone.”

“You did?”

“Like I said, I kept thinking what if Gary hadn’t been ill?”

Raymond looked at his father in disbelief. “You can’t blame him, dad, he’s just a kid.”

“Well, I know that. He can’t help being ill. But I can’t help but think what would have happened had I been there to drive him to the hospital.”

“It’s not your fault either, Dad.”

“I know it’s not my fault, you idiot!” Ernest shouted so loudly that the window panes shook a little. “I had retired, I’d left all that behind until some idiot, some stupid idiot started playing the stock market like it was a weekend game of Monopoly!”

“You can’t be blaming me? It’s not my fault mum died!”

“It is!” Ernest raised a pointed finger at his son. “You were the one who forced me out of retirement, you were the one who needed his hand holding, you were the reason I wasn’t there for my family, when I should have been, simply because you can’t add up!”

“It’s an addiction.”

“An addiction to what? To losing money? To being a waste of space?”

“To gambling! Some people do it down the pub for a penny a trick, others on the horses. Just because I did it on the stock market, doesn’t mean it’s not an illness!”

“Illness! Illness? Don’t give me that! It’s not a disease! You just need to learn to have a little self control!”

“Dad, will – ”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What?”

“I’m not your dad. I refuse to believe that any son of mine could have acted the way you have.”

Raymond stared at him. “You can’t be serious… You can deny a lot of things, dad, but you can’t deny you’re my father…”

“Oh, can’t I? Your mother’s not around any more, is she? Nobody to say otherwise.”

“But… my birth certificate…”

“Is blank. I was fifteen when your mother had you, if she’d put me down on the birth certificate as the father, she’d have been arrested. Go and ask your grandfather who your dad is, as far as he’s concerned, I stepped in and married his daughter after some randy farmhand got her pregnant. There is nothing in this world that can prove I’m your father apart from my word. And my word is that you’re not my son.”

Raymond marched back to the door. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. I’ll see you in the office on Monday.”

“No, you won’t.”

“What?”

“I won’t be seeing you on Monday.”

“What do you mean? You told Pat just this morning that you were going back to work on Monday.”

“I will be, but I won’t be seeing you there.”

“Dad, me and you run the business together, you’ll have to see me.”

Ernest marched over to him and looked his son square in the face. “Not any more. God, I was a fool to give you your job back!”

“What are you saying?”

“You’re fired!” Ernest cried. “You must be kidding if you think I would leave you in charge of my business. Not now. Not ever!” He shoved Raymond hard in the chest and slammed the door shut in his face.

 

Read the next chapter here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 3

Start at the beginning here or read the last chapter here

 

Harry’s Apartment, Los Angeles, February 2010

 

Tricia was nearly thrown backwards onto the floor as Harry crashed past her in the doorway and raced for the toilet bowl in the bathroom at the far end of the corridor. She picked up the photo frame from the floor that he had knocked down in his rush past the small table and sighed as she ran a finger over the crack that had appeared in the glass.

“Harry? Harry, are you alright?” She asked him, even though she could hear his retching as the fried breakfast she’d made him made a surprise reappearance.

“I’ll be fine.” He stepped out of the bathroom, and she got her first look at him, dressed up in the new Armani suit that had been tailored especially for the occasion. Tricia gasped, her arms prickled with goose bumps and for a moment, a small fleeting moment, she could have sworn her heart had stopped. Despite the fact that he and Vincent were twins, Tricia had always seen vast differences in their behaviours and in their appearances, but now… it was like he was back.

“You, err, you broke your picture.”

“Oh, just put it on the side, I’ll sort it out later.” He walked past her, ignoring the proffered photo frame, back into his bedroom.

He didn’t mean to be so callous, he didn’t know how fragile she still was, or how much he reminded her of him right now. She looked down at the picture of the two brothers, the crack running across Vincent’s forehead. He didn’t know that seeing a picture of him made her want to howl inside, he didn’t know that she’d hidden all the photos she had of Vincent because seeing images of him made the pain so unbearable.

How could he know? They never talked about him.

Tricia moved into the bathroom and studied herself in the mirror. She took a deep breath and concentrated on the bridge of her nose. Staring at one fixed point was all she had to do in order to stop herself from crying. And she couldn’t cry, Harry needed her to be strong. Always. That was her job.

She slipped the small photo frame into her clutch bag and clipped it shut, before following Harry into his bedroom. He was stood at the edge of the bed, his face was pallid, and glistening with a cold sweat.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” She asked, slipping a hand onto his shoulder.

“I’m just nervous, you know. I mean, it’s the Oscars!”

He looked at her. He took one step back and looked at every inch of her, and that’s when she knew she had Harry back, and that Vincent was not with her, not anymore. Vincent had had a way of looking at her that made her whole body shimmer with desire, with eroticism, a way of looking that made her feel as if every inch of her flesh was special and wanted.

Harry, as lovely as he was, had a way of looking at her without even seeing her. Harry would just see the dress, the deep red that had become her signature colour, the small bag that hung off her arm so effortlessly and the heel that tensed the muscles in her calf so perfectly.

“You look wonderful.” He said.

“I know.” They both laughed a little. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

Harry took her arm and they started to make their way down the stairs. “You know, you don’t have to come with me. It’s not really that big a deal.”

“Not that a big deal?” She took a deep breath, finally feeling able to slip back into the role of agent, mentor and boss that she felt most comfortable with. “Of course it’s a big deal! You’ve been nominated for Best Actor – and I know you’re going to win this time. Besides, turning up with a gorgeous, natural blonde – ”

“Natural brunette.”

“ – is going to help quash those latest rumours that have been doing the rounds.”

“They’re not rumours, T.”

Tricia glared at him. “I know that. You know that. Doesn’t mean everyone else has to know it as well.”

“I’m gay, T. It’s part of who I am. If the great American public aren’t ready to accept that of me yet, then that’s their own problem.”

“Which becomes your problem when they stop paying you to appear in movies as the lead heartthrob. Which then becomes my problem when I stop receiving fifteen percent – which once again then becomes your problem when I kill you. Also, how many times do I have to tell you not to admit to it, no matter where you are, or who you’re talking to? For all we know this whole place could be bugged.”

“I’m sure the paparazzi wouldn’t stoop to putting cameras and microphones in my apartment.”

“Maybe not, and maybe the next time my roots come through they’ll be deep purple.” She ushered him out through the front door and onto the steps outside. “Look, all I’m saying is, if you have to say it out loud, just call it something else, will you?

Tricia tottered down the steps in her three inch heels into the back seat of the Bentley waiting for them at the bottom. Harry locked up the front door and then sidled in beside her

“Look, why does it even matter if the press find out that I’m – ” He glanced at the driver in the front seat and then back at Tricia who was glaring dangerously at him “That I’m… interested in kayaking?”

Tricia gave him a look that plainly said, do we need to have this conversation again?

“Kayaking,” she began slowly, “is a dangerous sport and I know of plenty of other young heartthrob actors who have lost many young female fans because of it.”

“You do?” Harry grinned cheekily. “Maybe you could introduce me to a few of them and we could… kayak together.”

“If I still smoked, I’d be sparking up a whole pack right now.” Harry smiled to himself as she fumbled through her bag and pulled out a stick of chewing gum.

“You know, miss,” the old, scratchy voice of the driver came from the front seat, “I really don’t think anyone cares all that much about kayaking, my son does it all the time and no one bats an eyelid. In fact I’ve kayaked with him, myself, once or twice.”

“Really?” Harry said with a sly smile at Tricia, “Does your wife know?”

“Just drive, will you?” Tricia shot at the old man in the front.

“Yes, ma’am.”

As the car pulled away down the street, Tricia leant over and pulled the divide across, giving the two of them some privacy in the back seat.

“I’m just saying, it’s not – ”

“A wise career move, yeah, I know.” Harry conceded with a nod.

Neither of them spoke for a minute, the only sound coming from the soft smacking of the gum between Tricia’s teeth.

Vincent remained unspoken between them. Tricia knew that when Vincent and Harry had been children they had both dreamed of being world famous superstars. The dream had come true for Vincent and he had left his old life and his twin brother behind in England. After Vincent’s death, Harry had made the difficult decision to step in and help the studio complete the picture that Vincent had been working on.

His performance was critically acclaimed and that, along with the tragedy of losing his brother had catapulted Harry’s career to heights that Vincent had barely been able to imagine. Tricia knew that it was no longer really what Harry wanted, his heart wasn’t in it, but he continued to live Vincent’s dream for him, leaving his own life behind.

She knew that Harry had posthumously made this promise to Vincent, but he didn’t know she had made the same promise. She had wanted to stop, wanted to give it all up, but she owed it to Vincent to help Harry. And that was why, however much she didn’t like it, she had to keep his preferences a secret.

“Did you have a chance to look at those scripts I sent over?” She asked.

“It’s all the same sort of thing I’ve done before,” Harry sighed, “I’m being typecast.”

“But you are being cast, Harry, and that’s the important thing. Look, I had a script arrive on my desk yesterday morning, it’s perfect for you. You play an astronaut, Jack something or other, who launches into space on a routine mission to Mars. Then, when you come back you realise aliens have taken over the world.”

Harry gasped falsely. “Let me guess, then I stop them, along with my beautiful and amazingly intelligent co-pilot, played by some vacant but virginal-looking actress who can barely create a look of shock or fear or anything because of all the chemicals that have been pumped into her forehead.”

This time it was Tricia’s turn to sigh. “Look, I know you don’t like these movies, but just get a couple more of these under your belt, you’ll be able to start doing things your own way. You’ll be able to make the movie that you want to make.”

Harry glanced down at Tricia’s bag and frowned. “Why have you got this?” He pulled out the small picture of himself and his brother that she had slipped inside.

“I was going to get it fixed for you, a new frame or something.”

“Oh.”

They sat in silence for a moment, both of them staring at the picture, until Harry pulled the glass from the frame and took the photo from it. Behind it was another photograph, one of Harry and another man, both of them hugging and grinning at the camera, clearly deep in love.

“Who’s that?” Tricia asked, glancing over at it. “Wait, is that Frederick Cromwell?”

“Yeah.” Harry smiled at her, and she saw his eyes sparkle, the way Vincent’s used to when he had looked at her.

“Since when did you two know each other?” She asked, a dangerous sinking feeling in her stomach.

“About five months ago.” Harry shrugged.

“Wait, don’t tell me the two of you are –” Tricia glanced at the divide in front of them and lowered her voice. “Don’t tell me the two of you are kayaking together?”

“He’s really good on the rapids.” Harry smirked.

“Harry, you really shouldn’t be – is this why you’ve been refusing work? Have you been with him?”

“He’s writing a screenplay.”

“Oh, because his last one was so good.” Tricia rolled her eyes.

“I’m going to be in the leading role, look he’s a really good writer.”

“You think I’ve never heard of him? I know exactly what that man is like and I know the sort of film he’d be writing. I am telling you right here, right now, I’m not letting you appear in some kind of gay porno!”

“Tricia, please – ”

“And he’d better not be there tonight. If you see him at the ceremony, or at the after party, I want you to blank him. The last thing I need is for this rumour to hit the papers tomorrow.”

“No problem, I’m going to have to leave the party early.”

“Why?”

“Freddie’s flying back to England tomorrow for a few days.”

“So?”

Harry hesitated for just a moment.

“So, I could use a damn good kayak before he goes…”

 

 *                *                *

 

He straightened his tie, smoothed down his hair and checked his reflection in the mirror. He smiled as he heard a hesitant knock on the door, and sat down behind his desk.

“Come.” He said simply, slowly, letting the ‘m’ linger slightly too long in the air.

“Mr Johnson?” Harry entered the room, nervously. “Harry Hicks, they said you, err, that you wanted to see me?”

“Call me Briggs,” the man said, smiling warmly, his fingers loosening his tie slightly as he did, “and yes, I did want to… see you. Please… sit down.”

Harry sat in a chair on the other side of the small desk and flashed a weak smile as the man in front of him stood and began to slowly wander around the room.

“I’ve heard a lot about you from my casting lady, seen the pictures. I must say… I’m impressed.” He let his finger slide across Harry’s shoulder blade as he passed him.

“She said that I’d got the part, I’ve got to tell you, Mr – Briggs, this means so much to me, to be in one of your films is like – ”

“I’m afraid I have the final say on who appears in my films.” Harry fell silent, Briggs Johnson stared at him just as silently.

“Please, I’ll do anything, this is a huge opportunity for me.”

“Good, I’m glad you think so.” He stood behind Harry, placing his hands on his shoulders. “It’s very important you understand what I’m saying to you here, I would hate for there to be any kind of misunderstanding… especially as I am yet to make up my mind whether I should give you this part or not. Stand up.”

Harry stood up and turned to face him. Johnson moved in closer to him and stared into his eyes. Harry could feel the breath of the older man on his face as he ran his tongue along his lower lip.

“Mr… Mr Johnson,” Harry stammered, “I’m… straight.”

“Turn around.”

“Briggs, please –“

“Turn around, Harry.” He repeated and Harry did, a strange force compelling him to. For a moment nothing happened and then Harry felt the man step up behind him, his body just inches from his own.

Suddenly Harry was pushed down, his face shoved hard onto the desk. “What – what are you doing?”

“It’s just a rite of passage, Harry. Every one of my leading men has been through this.”

Harry felt something hard against his behind and he twisted his head enough to get a glimpse of what he’d feared. The man behind him had removed all his clothing.

“Of course, every one of my leading men who’s appeared in my films has been given the opportunity to help… choose the actresses. You do understand what I’m saying, don’t you, Harry?”

“I… I think so…”

Harry felt the cool air against his own behind as the waistband of his trousers was lifted. A pair of fingers grazed against his cheek.

“Do you want me to continue, Harry? Do you want this part?”

“I – “ Frederick laughed, cutting off Harry’s nervous mumblings.

“Did he honestly say all this, Harry?”

“Freddie!” Harry groaned, standing up. “You’re the one who wanted to play this game!”

“I know, but I can’t believe Briggs Johnson really said all this to you.”

“I promise you, every word.”

“So, he’s fucked every actor that’s appeared in his films?”

“That’s what he said.”

“Did you…?”

“I got the part, didn’t I?” Harry smirked and sat back down.

Frederick stared at him, a curious look on his face. “Huh.”

“Please, Mr Johnson,” Harry turned and put his hand on one of Frederick’s, “I really want this part.”

“Forget about Briggs Johnson, Harry, I’ve got a better – a bigger part for you.”

Harry laughed as Frederick dragged him into the bedroom of the hotel suite they’d hired for the night.

 

*                *                *

 

“I don’t want you to go.” Harry carefully teased Frederick’s nipple with one finger.

“And I don’t want to go, you know that.” Frederick murmured, holding his lover’s head nestled tightly into his chest.

They were sprawled across the large king sized bed, early morning Los Angeles sunlight spilled through the window over them and the bright white sheets.

“So, if you don’t want to go and I don’t want you to go, why are you going? We could stay here and…”

“And what?”

Harry opened his eyes, lifted his head to look at Frederick and flashed a devilish grin. “I’m sure we could think of something.”

“Behave.”

“Why is it you’re abandoning me again?”

“I’m not abandoning you.” Frederick reminded him, “I’m going back to England for a few days to help Grandpa hire a replacement for Uncle Michael.”

“I thought you’d quit so you could come out here?”

“I had, but it’s family, you know? Besides, I might be able to convince him to finance my next movie, and if I can, then I get a say in the casting. And I know a gorgeous young man, good body,  great little fucker, who’d be perfect for the lead role.”

Frederick started to pull himself up from the bed as Harry rolled away from him. “You mean you’re seeing someone else?”

“You can never accept a compliment, can you?” Frederick sighed.

“Maybe the compliments aren’t good enough.” Frederick rolled his eyes as he slowly walked into the bathroom. He could feel Harry’s eyes, watching his naked form walk away and self-consciously clenched his buttocks.

Frederick stood under the shower, letting the water run softly over his head and down his back. He was the happiest he’d been in years, Harry was about to move into his brand new apartment which Frederick had helped to decorate. He was taking advantage of some rare time off and spending every day he had with a gorgeous man who loved him. It felt to Frederick as though they’d earned this time.

Shortly before they met, the body of Harry’s brother had been pulled from a lake, and until recently, it felt as though Harry had still been mourning his twin. Perhaps it was just a natural process, perhaps it was the excitement of his new apartment, but in the last few weeks Harry had seemed to finally loosen up. Life was good, there was nothing wrong.

He quickly soaped himself all over, stepped out of the shower – only slightly disappointed that Harry hadn’t joined him – and dried himself off. He stared at himself in the full-length mirror, and smiled, happy with what he saw.

Frederick returned to the bedroom and was, again, only slightly disappointed to discover that Harry had not stayed in bed. He quickly pulled on some clothes and moved out to the living-area of the hotel suite, to discover Harry wearing a dressing gown and sat on the couch watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

“I’ve just sent for some breakfast if you want it.”

Frederick looked at his watch. “I don’t think I’m going to have time, I’d miss the plane.”

“Maybe that’s the point. It’s full English.”

“You really know the way to a man’s heart, don’t you?”

Harry smiled and spoke in a playful sing-song voice, “I ordered extra mushrooms.”

Frederick licked his lips, “Maybe I could manage a few bites.”

“Just think how many bites you could have if you stayed here with me.”

“You, Mr Hicks,” Frederick said leaning over his boyfriend, “have got an unhealthy obsession with bites. I’ve still got the marks on my arse from last night.”

“Well,” Harry said, in between small light kisses from the man leaning over him, “you just looked so delicious.”

“I’m not going to deny that.” Frederick moved away, across the room, looking for his pair of tan shoes that he’d kicked across the room in a rush the previous night. “It’s a bit reckless for you, this whole hotel thing, anyway isn’t it? What if somebody sees you with me and blabs to the press?”

“There’s nothing to worry about.” Harry dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand as Elmer Fudd pointed a gun in Bugs’ face. “First of all, this is a Hollywood hotel, the staff know the score, discretion is vital. Also, none of the press can find out I’m staying here, because I’m signed in under an assumed name. Everyone does it.”

Frederick pulled on his second shoe “So, if you’re not Harry Hicks, who are you then?”

“I can’t tell you that, it would ruin my whole cover, I’d never be able to use that name again.”

“Can’t you even tell me your first name? I hate having anonymous sex.”

Harry smiled. “It’s Donald.”

“Nice to meet you Donald, I’m Frederick Cromwell.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Frederick Cromwell.” Harry grinned and shook Frederick’s outstretched hand.

“Of course,” Frederick moved across the room, attempting to do the cuffs up on his shirt, “if anyone asks, I’m Gordon Jones.”

Harry threw a small cushion across the room at Frederick who caught it and laughed. He placed the cushion back and held out his arms to Harry.

He smiled as Harry buttoned up the cuffs for him. “What would I do without you?”

“You’d be walking around with your sleeve all flapping about, and that would just never do.”

Frederick collapsed onto the couch and started to slide a hand under Harry’s dressing gown. “You know, I’ve about ten minutes before I really, really definitely have to leave. You’ve probably got time to… grab a bite.”

Harry pulled away and closed his dressing gown up. “The full English comes with sausage… I’ll wait for that.”

“Perhaps, you’re right,” Frederick sighed, “I’ve still got to pack up my laptop.” He stood back up and moved over to the jumble of wires and machinery on the desk.

“So, what exactly are you going to do on that long plane journey back to England?”

“Bound to be some movie on that I’ve not seen. I’ll probably make a start on that screenplay as well.” He said, motioning with the battery pack of his computer.

Harry nodded and then frowned a moment later. “What screenplay?”

“You know the one I told you about. The one I’m writing for you.”

“You told me that was finished, that… that you were just polishing off some rough edges before you let me see it.”

“Err… yeah it is.”

Harry stood up. “So hang on, it’s nearly finished, just got some rough edges, but you’re only thinking about making a start on it on the plane.”

“Ok, so maybe, it’s not as far along as I said it was, there have been a few complications.”

“You told me that we just had to get the money and we could shoot the movie. Have you actually started writing the thing yet?”

“Well, not in the strictest sense of the word,” Frederick blustered, “but I pretty much know what’s going to happen. It’s no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Harry repeated. “No big deal? Two months ago, you told me that it was in the bag, I’ve been turning down other work to be in this movie of yours and now you’re telling me that you haven’t even started it yet?”

“Look, I didn’t ask you to turn down work, besides, when have I had time to write it, Harry?” Frederick asked. “I’ve been with you nearly twenty four seven since we met. I don’t know how multi-talented you are, but I’m not that great at creative writing when someone is biting on my arse!”

“So, this is my fault?”

“Well, yeah, actually, maybe it is. Maybe, if you weren’t so damn needy all the time, if you weren’t so clingy, maybe I would be able to have my own life.”

“I’m the needy one?” Harry asked incredulously. “How am I the needy one, when it was you who was coming around to my apartment every single day? When it was you constantly ringing me to check that I was ok?”

“I was only doing that, because whenever I didn’t, you worried about me, you used to panic that I’d gone and got myself beaten into a bloody corpse like your stupid brother!” Frederick regretted saying it straight away.

Harry just stared at him. “Grow up.” He said, eventually.

Frederick continued to pack up his computer, deliberately avoiding looking up at Harry. There was a small, timid knock on the door and Frederick stalked over, nearly wrenching the door off it’s hinges causing the young, uniformed man to jump in surprise.

He walked in pushing a small trolley with him. “Your Full English with added mushrooms, Mr, err… Duck.”

“Donald.” Frederick mumbled to himself as Elmer Fudd hid behind a rock, his fingers jammed in his ears, protecting him from the cartoon explosion that filled the screen.

Sensing the tension in the air between the two men, the young man stepped back to the door. “I could come back for the trolley later if it’s more convenient.”

“Yeah,” Frederick said, taking some notes out of his wallet and handing them to him, “that might be a better idea.”

“No.” Harry said, not taking his eyes from Frederick. “Stay, there’s a breakfast going spare. Do you like sausage?”

“No, really, Sir, hotel staff aren’t supposed –

“It’s ok,” Harry put his arm on the young waiter’s shoulders, “Mr Cromwell was just leaving.”

Frederick looked up at him. “Harry, don’t – ”

“No, Frederick. I mean it. I want you to go.

 

Cromley’s Head Office, London

 

Robert Forrester stared out of the window of Ernest Cromwell’s office and sighed. The bright lights of London twinkled in the night sky, high above the noise and the dirt of the streets below. Twinkling like diamonds and rubies suspended in the air, just out of arms reach. All those riches, Robert thought, just out of grasp.

His hand went to the left pocket of his only remaining pair of smart trousers, a pair that hadn’t been washed in two weeks. Inside, he slowly fingered the last of his own riches, a single grubby pound coin.

He moved away from the window and sat in the chair opposite the large desk. His eyes pierced through the darkness and explored the bookcase on the walls, so many thick books, yet covered with a dust that exposed their owner as being more interested in appearances than in literary excellence.

That afternoon, he’d been sat in the very same office, in the very same suit that he’d worn in so many other offices lately, and he had cocked up royally his last chance of getting a job. Only a last minute charm offensive had convinced Cromwell to give him one more chance, a chance over dinner that night.

Ideas, he’d told him, strategies, plans, ways forward, Robert had all of them. Or so he’d said. Ernest hadn’t been convinced until Robert had promised him more money, higher income, increased profits – in short – more power. Ernest’s ears had pricked up and he’d agreed to give Robert a second chance.

Of course, he’d said, I can’t do it now, and Robert’s heart had sunk. He had nowhere to go that night, he needed a job, he needed it now and he really needed a massive advance in wages. Take me out to dinner, Ernest had said and then promptly named the priciest restaurant in London, we can talk about your ideas there.

He pulled the coin out of his pocket and slowly let it move across his fingers. He wasn’t quite sure yet how he’d pay for dinner, but that wasn’t his biggest concern. If things went badly, he’d excuse himself early, go to the bathroom and never come back, ditching a large restaurant bill on Cromwell. If everything went well and Robert managed to impress the old man into giving him a job, his new boss would probably take up the bill. If he didn’t, he would charm whoever he could into paying for him or into waiving the bill.

As it was, he would have to chat someone up enough to convince them to take him home with them, or he’d have to retreat to picking pockets again, something he hadn’t done since he was freshly out of college, nearly two decades previously. That time he’d only had to do it a short while before finding himself studying at a university, and then landing on his feet a few years later a Psychology teacher at a prestigious London college.

He’d managed to stay there until just a year previously when he had been fired for sleeping with one of his students. In fact, he’d been sleeping with more than one of them, and had been doing so for several years. It was only when two girls and one young man went to the headmaster’s office to complain about the sexual harassment because he wasn’t sleeping with them that things had been stirred up and it all came out

Within a week, not only had he lost a job, but gained a reputation as a serial student shagger within the teaching community. Things had gradually died down and he’d nearly managed to secure another teaching post when one of the younger art teachers recognised him from her own student days and warned the employment board. This further reminder of his reputation spread throughout teaching circles along with the rumour that it wasn’t just girls he was sleeping with, but boys as well. A claim Robert had vehemently denied – for it was only one boy, and there had been no sleeping of any kind, merely brief sexual encounters in broom cupboards designed to get Robert closer to the boy’s vast inheritance. Still, the rumours spread like ripples and Robert had found himself without employment and no real chance of going back to teaching.

Robert just prayed that Ernest didn’t know any teachers.

“Who are you?” The door swung open and an attractive blonde woman, wearing what could only be described as a blue power suit delivered directly from the eighties, entered.

“I’m waiting for Mr Cromwell. We’re going for a dinner tonight.”

“Ah, you’re the one that won’t leave him alone.”

“Robert Forrester.” Robert held out his hand and the woman shook it, smiling out one side of her mouth.

“Jennifer Cromwell.”

“His… daughter?”

“Daughter-in-law.”

“Right.” Robert quickly withdrew his hand, but Jennifer took hold of it again.

“It’s ok. My husband is dying.” Robert smiled a little and then jumped when he heard voices outside the office. Cromwell was there arguing with a younger man.

“Oh, that’s Frederick.” Jennifer said, noticing the diversion in Robert’s attention. She frowned and sat up on the desk. “Ernest’s grandson, golden child the way Ernest goes on about him, anyway.”

“How do you mean?” Robert sat down in a chair in front of the desk.

“You haven’t heard about the fabulous Frederick? About five years ago, he wandered in here while his grandfather was with the board trying to figure out the best way to crush the latest rising competition.” Jennifer picked up a framed photo of Frederick on the desk. “Five minutes later, Ernest had fired half of his board members and put Freddie on the payroll. Two years after that and there’s an extra fifteen million pounds profit in the bank account.”

“So what are they arguing about?”

“God knows. They’ve been arguing ever since Frederick left for Hollywood.”

“Hollywood?”

“You really haven’t heard of him? He’s a screenwriter. Following his dream, or something like that. Following his cock more like.”

Robert frowned at her. “You don’t – “

“Listen, Frederick, I’ve already told you, my answer is no.” Ernest Cromwell burst into the room, turning on the light as he came, followed by a much younger man.

“Mr Cromwell.” Robert stood up and shook his hand.

“Forrester! I see you’ve met Jennifer then? Still got your underpants, have you?”

“Ernest,” Jennifer ignored his comments, “Jacob and Alistair are waiting downstairs, we still need to go over those financial reports.”

Cromwell sighed and looked at Robert. “I’ll have to delay dinner for thirty minutes, maybe an hour.”

“Of course, Mr Cromwell, that’s fine.”

“Right, well, you can just wait here, I’ll be back up as soon as possible.”

Cromwell made his way to the door and his grandson followed. “Grandpa, can’t we – ”

“No. I’ve already told you, no is my final answer. Now, I’ve got to go and do some real work, it’s a dirty job, but someone in the family has to earn a living. You can just get a taxi to the airport and go back to Hollywood. Goodnight.”

With that Ernest Cromwell walked out of the office and stalked off down the corridor. Jennifer nodded to Robert and quietly followed the old man out. Robert looked at Frederick and smiled, some alone time with the old man’s golden grandson, he thought, was no bad thing. I might be able to learn a few tricks.

Frederick walked over to the desk and sat in his grandfather’s chair, as Robert sat back down in the chair on the other side. “What are you in for?” Frederick asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Job interview.” Robert shifted a little in the chair, it wasn’t at all comfortable. “You?”

“I needed some money, though it’s like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Of course, it’s probably easier to borrow money from a bloodless stone than it is from Scrooge there.”

Robert smiled and extended his hand across the desk. “Robert Forrester.”

“Frederick Cromwell.”

“Ah, the famous writer.” Robert replied as Frederick shook his hand.

“You know my work?”

“I’ve… seen your film, read some of your reviews.”

“Wow,” Frederick said with a real amazement, “I knew that people had seen the reviews, but I didn’t think anyone had actually sat through the film.”

“I fell asleep in the theatre, it came on after a showing of Gone With the Wind.”

“Of course.” Frederick nodded and a silence filled the room for a moment. “So, job interview, huh, how’s that gone for you?”

“About as well as your money hunting mission.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Frederick mused, “you’re getting dinner.”

“What I’m getting is one last chance to impress him and a hefty restaurant bill at the end of it. So how come you need the money? I thought your entire family was minted.”

“We are,” Frederick nodded, “but even I don’t have enough money to finance a movie.”

“Another movie?” Robert asked with a raised eyebrow. “That’s brave.”

“Foolish, maybe.”

“So what went wrong? He didn’t let you borrow the money, because of the first one?”

“No, no, he actually quite enjoyed the first film, at least, he says he did. No, it was all going well, he nearly had his chequebook out, but then I said the ‘B’ word.”

“Belgium?”

“Boyfriend.”

Robert paused. He hadn’t expected that at all. Normally, he could sense this sort of thing. His mind suddenly started racing, being alone with the golden grandson was most definitely not a bad thing. Internally, as he smiled at the young man, a switch flicked from ‘charm’ to ‘flirt’.

“Boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend.”

“Oh. So, you’re – ”

“Yeah, at the moment anyway.”

“At the moment?” Robert asked.

“I butter my bread on both sides, if you get my drift.”

“And he doesn’t approve of you spreading your butter around like that?”

“He’d prefer I only buttered one side.”

“Let me guess,” Robert smiled, “he wants you to keep your butter away from the backside?”

Frederick laughed and looked out of the window. “Crude, yet accurate. The only reason he hasn’t disowned me completely is because I, and I’m quoting here, still bone women occasionally.”

“Well, you don’t look stupid.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well,” Robert said, leaning forward, “the way I see it, is that you’ve known your grandfather for, what – twenty years?”

“Twenty three, but carry on.”

“You know how he reacts when your boyfriend is mentioned, so why bring him up?”

“It just kind of happened.”

“How?”

“Well, like I said, it was all going really well, I’d told him about my idea for the film and he loved it, he’d near to damn it signed the cheque, and I just got excited. I said, Donald’s going to be so happy!”

“Donald? The toast?”

“So, that’s what Grandpa says, ‘Who’s Donald?’ I tell him he’s my boyfriend. Well, then, he wants to know why Donald, specifically, is going to be so happy. And I tell him, he’s going to play the main character.”

“And Ernest wasn’t all too happy to fund a movie starring a gay man who was – literally –  leading his grandson off the straight and narrow.”

Frederick clicked his finger and pointed it, like a gun, straight at Robert. “The chequebook snapped shut faster than a bulldog clip. So, now I have no money to produce a film with a script that I haven’t yet written starring a man who won’t be my boyfriend for much longer.”

Robert frowned. “He wouldn’t split up with you just because you can’t put him in a movie, would he?”

“Of course he wouldn’t, he’s not like that. No, we just had a huge argument before I came away, the biggest one we’ve ever had.”

Robert stood up and walked around the desk, sitting on it just in front of Frederick. “Couples fight, they cool off, then they make up. That’s the fun bit.” He winked.

“Maybe.” Frederick mused.

Robert looked down at the young man sat in front of him, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

“Here’s the way, I see it,” Robert said, loosening his tie, “I think we can help each other.”

“How’s that?”

“Despite the whole screwing men thing, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing, by the way,” he added, throwing another wink Frederick’s way, “it’s clear your grandfather thinks a hell of a lot of you.”

“How do you figure that?” Frederick asked with a frown. Robert leant back on his hands, pushing his crotch forward. It was practically eye level for Frederick, and he smiled as he spotted the young man take a look.

“I know enough about your grandfather,” Robert began as Frederick stood up, flustered, “to know that he’s got a fairly large family. What is it, three children, nearly twice as many grandchildren.”

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

“There are only two photographs in this office, one on the wall of him opening a supermarket, and then there’s this one.” He pointed to a frame on the desk.

Frederick looked the photograph of himself and smiled. He remembered the day that picture had been taken, the previous autumn when he had briefly stayed with his grandfather before moving out to Los Angeles. They’d spent the day painting the walls of the dining room, Ernest had felt they needed a fresh coat and he didn’t trust anyone else to do it. Frederick felt that it was more he didn’t want to pay anyone else to do it, but he had helped him anyway.

Surprisingly, they’d had a good day, they’d had a lot of fun and Frederick had bonded with his grandfather in a way he’d never done before. The next day, Frederick had all but shattered that bond, or so he’d thought, when he announced he was bisexual, and moving to Hollywood.

“So, you want me to convince Grandpa, that in the five minutes I’ve known you, I’ve gotten to know you so well, and that I think he should hire you? What do I get out of the deal?”

“I’m a financial advisor, Frederick, if I get this job with your grandfather, I’ll be the one telling him how to spend his money. I could tell him to spend it all on crackers or water pumps in Africa. Or on a movie.”

Frederick turned and stared out of the window, usually he looked up to the stars for inspiration, but none were ever visible in the centre of London, and so, he peered down at the streetlights below. Eventually, he turned to face Robert, who had now stood up to face him.

“I barely know you.”

“We can change that.” Robert said stretching out his hand, hooking two fingers into the waistband of Frederick’s jeans and pulling him in close to him.

“I have a boyfriend.”

“I have two.” Robert bent his head and slowly began kissing Frederick’s neck. “I won’t tell  if you don’t.”

Frederick remained standing as Robert leaned back onto the desk. “I can’t.”

“Of course you can.” Robert pulled him in closer, causing Frederick to straddle his left leg. Despite Frederick’s protests, Robert felt part of Frederick that was urging him on, pressing into his thigh. He felt sick.

Frederick hesitated for a few seconds before pushing Robert down completely onto the tidy polished desk and lying atop him. For several moments their mouths exploded with frenzied kisses and thrashing tongues while their fingers frantically clawed at buttons, belts and zips.

As Frederick pulled down his own boxer shorts, he whispered in Robert’s ear. “Roll over.”

“No,” Robert said, using his superior strength to turn Frederick back-down on the desk, “you roll over.”

“I’m a top, I’ve never… I don’t do that.”

“You do now.” Robert pulled down his own briefs. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”

 

*                *                *

 

“So, how exactly is this going to work?” Frederick asked Robert as he buttoned up the front of his shirt.

“First,” Robert started lacing his shoes as he spoke, “you tell me the best way to get your grandfather on my side. Then, you tell your grandfather that, in your opinion, I’ve got some really good ideas and that you think I would be really good for the job.”

“Then what do you do for me?”

“Then, I get the job and I tell your grandfather that investing in the movies would be a good idea, and that what better film to start with than yours. Simple.”

“What do you want to know?” Frederick asked, sitting back down in the chair behind the desk.

“How do I get him to like me?”

“Well, don’t tell him about what we just did, for a start. And if you really have to, don’t tell him we did it on his desk. I can’t see that going down well at all.”

“Ok, anything else?”

“Secondly, agree with everything he says.”

“Everything?”

“Everything. The man likes to be right and he likes others to acknowledge that he is right, he’s surrounded himself with yes men for sixty years, and it seems to have worked out for him.”

Robert continued to ask Frederick questions, and Frederick was just explaining to him some of Ernest’s political persuasions when he stopped. Robert turned to look, and saw Ernest stood at the door.

“Frederick, what are you still doing here? I thought I told you to go home?”

“Err, you did, grandpa,” Frederick said, getting up from the chair, “but I was about to call the taxi and I got chatting to Robert here. He was a bit nervous about his interview.”

“Well,” Robert felt Cromwell’s eyes all over him and prayed that nothing looked out of place, “if he gets the job, he’ll have big shoes to fill.”

“What do you mean?” Frederick asked and Cromwell shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

“Michael. His… his cancer’s progressed, he’s not going to be able to work much longer.” He turned to Robert, almost as if he owed an explanation. “Michael’s my eldest, he’s my current financial advisor.”

“Grandpa,” Frederick looked at Ernest nervously, “I know you’re busy, but can I talk to you for a moment. In private?”

“Two minutes.” Cromwell sighed heavily. “Robert, would you excuse me, just a short while longer?”

“Of course.”

Robert stepped out of the office, and as he closed the door, he glanced back to see Ernest and Frederick whispering to each other, frantically.

“You realise you just got played, don’t you?”

He turned to see Jennifer sitting in a chair, staring up at him. “Excuse me?”

“They,” she nodded her head towards Ernest’s office, “played you.”

“What?”

“It was supposed to catch you off guard, they’ve done it before.”

Robert pointed to the office he had just left. “That was an interview?”

“I’ve already told you, he’s the golden child. If he doesn’t like you, I can assure you, you don’t get the job.”

Robert gave a small, disbelieving laugh. “I don’t understand. That was all a set up? None of it was real? They weren’t really arguing?”

“Oh, the argument was real. They can’t spend more than half an hour in the same room together without arguing. Ernie might disagree with him on pretty much most of the decisions he makes, but he trusts him. Can’t choose which toilet paper to wipe his arse with without checking Frederick’s opinion first.”

“Well, I certainly hope I gave Frederick a thorough understanding of my… skills.” Robert said as Cromwell stepped out of the office, beaming.

“Right, then, Forrester, are you ready?”

“Absolutely. Let’s go.”

Frederick stepped out from behind his grandfather and started to head for the door. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Robert. Goodnight Aunt Jenny… send my love to Uncle Michael?”

“You’re not staying?” She asked

“Err, no. I’m heading back to LA. Work to do, and all that.” He nodded to them and walked off towards the staircase at the end of the hall.

Cromwell watched him go and sighed. “He’s a good enough lad, his only problem is this Hollywood business he’s got himself involved with.”

“You don’t approve?”

“Well, it’s a very hit and miss way to make your money, there are better things to gamble on. Tell me, Mr Forrester, would you ever advise investing in cinema?”

“Well, Sir, like you said, it’s a very risky business to gamble on. And with your grandson’s track record in the movies…”

Ernest nodded. “Exactly what I said.”

“Besides, I don’t think, the Hollywood thing is his only problem.”

Cromwell paused and looked at Robert enquiringly. “How do you mean?”

“Well, I think… I think he might be gay.”

“And that would be a problem for you?”

Robert remembered the feeling of revulsion he’d felt as he’d gripped hold of the young man’s thighs just fifteen minutes before. “Yes. It would, Mr Cromwell. I probably shouldn’t be saying this sort of thing in a job interview, but I hate faggots.”

Ernest gave a small laugh. “Oh, don’t be silly,” he smiled, patting Robert on the shoulder, “Call me Ernest.”

 

 Click here for the next chapter

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 1

Start at the beginning here

November, 1944

 

Ernest woke up suddenly to find the house shaking and the air raid sirens blaring outside. For a moment, he was disoriented, but then felt the house shake again and immediately jumped into action, pulling on a pair of crumpled trousers, and a thick scratchy jumper over his pyjamas.

He moved the black out curtain aside and peered across the street in front of him. Ordinarily the street would be dark, nothing could be seen, but tonight, there were beams of light waving into the air above, searching for the enemy aircraft that were attacking the city.

Ernest could see that a fire was blazing less than three streets away. Willoughby Street, he calculated, and turned away from the window. He had to get to the air raid shelter in the back garden before his own street was hit.

He rushed from his bedroom onto the landing outside, the door next to his own, the door to his parents room, was closed. Perhaps she hadn’t woken yet, perhaps she didn’t know what was happening, he had to get to her, make sure she was ok.

He’d promised.

Ernest tried the handle, but the door wouldn’t move. It was locked. He took a step back, turned sideways and threw his body into the door. The weight of his tiny eight year old body was not enough to move it, but he tried again, this time, aiming his elbow at where the lock connected with the door frame.

A spasm of pain shot up through his arm, and Ernest swore loudly as tears pricked in the corner of each eye. Still, the door hadn’t moved, but he couldn’t give up on her. He roared loudly as he threw himself back at the door, this time crashing through it into his mother’s bedroom.

“Mum!” He shouted, as he tried to ignore the blinding pain in his arm. He looked over to the double bed in the centre of the bedroom, it was empty. She’d already gotten out. She would have grabbed hold of Raymond and made her way down to the shelter, he told himself, she would be there right now, waiting.

He moved back out on to the landing and was startled to discover it had started to fill with smoke. Somewhere a fire was burning and he knew then that the attack was closer than three streets away. Ernest crouched down to the floor as he’d been taught and moved towards the stairs.

Only when he was halfway down did he hear a noise that sent a shiver down his spine. Raymond was crying somewhere above him.

He turned again, without hesitating, and rushed back up the stairs towards his younger brother’s bedroom. He shoved open the door and immediately could feel the heat upon him. The smoke forced him to clamp shut his eyes and for a second time he dropped to the carpet.

He crawled across the floor, moving towards his brother’s cot. He could still hear Raymond’s bawling, but now it was accompanied by the crackling sound of flames. An almost distant memory of once finding the noise of a fire comforting flashed through his mind, but he quickly dismissed it. He was anything but comforted.

Ernest forced open his eyelids and immediately felt the stinging heat of the ash in his eyes. In front of him, the exterior wall of the house had been ripped away and through the gaping hole, Ernest could see the streets stretching away from him. All around him houses were burning, and theirs seemed to be at the centre of it.

He moved closer to the cot, and the floor below him creaked. Only then did he realise that it wasn’t just the wall that had been blown away, but part of the floor had also been destroyed as well.

One leg of the cot was resting on nothing but smoky air, hanging precariously over the kitchen, ready to crash down onto the broken floorboards and bricks below. The other corner leg, closest to the night air, was supported by a broken floorboard, one that looked as if it would snap at any moment.

As he pulled himself to his feet, his eyes were drawn to the garden below, also scattered with bricks. And then Raymond cried again, reclaiming his attention.

The cot was covered in dust, and pieces of brick and glass. Lacerations were spread across Raymond’s bare face and arms, and the blanket he lay on was red from his blood. Ernest grabbed hold of the now crimson fabric and scooped his younger brother up into his arms.

He held him close to his chest and turned to the door, but was stopped by a thick wall of heat. He couldn’t be sure, but either the fire had spread or another one had started. The flames were now licking at both Ernest and his brother, causing Raymond’s pained screams to become louder.

Ernest squinted through the door onto the landing and could see that the fire had begun to burn on the stairs in front of him. The wooden banister running around the edge of the staircase was beginning to crumble into a black ash, the foul smell of burning paint filled the rooms and a thick, dark smoke lingered at the top of the stairwell.

A moment of indecision flushed through Ernest as he began to panic over what to do. He had to get his brother out of the house and down to the air raid shelter where their mother was surely waiting for them, but the wall of fire blocked his way.

He looked over again at the hole in the side of Raymond’s bedroom, the burning beams circled around it, the dark garden littered with debris outside and then the shelter at the end, a welcoming oasis in a chaotic battlefield.

Without thinking, the small boy hugged his younger brother closer to his chest and sprinted at the fire. He launched himself off the end floorboard and out through the flames just as the wooden planks crumbled into the kitchen below.

He landed on his feet on the grass but immediately a spasm of pain shot through his foot and up his right leg. His body, unable to cope with the agony, fell forwards to the ground. To avoid crushing the babe in his arms, he twisted as he fell. His head hit the grass, but his back hit a lump of rock, and in that moment Ernest’s screams were louder than those of his brother.

Still holding on to Raymond he pulled himself up to his knees and stared at the house before him, trying to ignore the excruciating pain all over his body. He couldn’t see his brother’s bedroom through the thick smoke, but he could see the kitchen, lit up by orange flame, excited by the fresh wood of the cot that had fallen from above.

From outside, the damage to his house looked minimal, at least compared to that of the other houses he could see. The house next door, the Andersons, was completely alight; the entire top floor crushed. Whatever had hit his neighbour’s was what had caused the destruction in his brother’s room, nothing had actually hit their own house.

He heard a scream nearby and it jerked him back to reality, he stood up on his good leg and moved towards the bomb shelter, grimacing with each step he took, trying to block out the pain that seemed to flow through his entire body.

He hobbled toward the shelter, pulled open the door and threw himself inside, slamming the door shut behind him.

“Mum, I’ve got Raymond, he’s alive, but – ” He looked around the shelter, but there was no one there. It was empty. “Mum?”

He remembered the locked door to his mother’s bedroom, the bed inside, undisturbed, not slept in and his brother, Raymond, left behind in his cot. The realisation hit him harder than the rock he had landed on. His mother, their mother, had left the house without them. She’d left before the air raid had started.

“Mum? Where are you?” His voice came out small and timid and the only reply was that of his own plea, echoing around the damp, metallic structure. Wherever she was, she’d been there for some time. She’d put Raymond in his cot at around seven and then Ernest had gone to bed an hour or so after.

He pulled a pocket watch from his trousers where he’d left it before he’d gone to bed and checked the time. It was just past four in the morning. He stared at the hands of the watch, the second hand slowly ticking round, trying to figure out just where his mother might be. His chain of thought was interrupted by Raymond’s screaming and he held him close to his chest once more.

“Hey, Raymond, come on, shh. We’re going to be alright.” He looked nervously at a puddle that had appeared in the corner of the shelter. “We’re going to be fine.”

Ernest felt a small scratch sharper than even than that of his jumper against his chest and pulled the baby away from him. He looked at his brother’s face, a piece of glass was embedded in it. Without thinking, he pulled the shard out and used his sleeve to stop the bleeding as Raymond’s screams increased, the wound painfully exposed.

Ernest began to dust away the grit from his brother’s hair, humming softly as he did trying to comfort not only Raymond, but also himself. He noticed a small piece of glass on Raymond’s neck and, again, without thinking, pulled it away. Blood began to spew violently from his brother’s neck.

“Oh God! Raymond!” Ernest cried out in surprise as he quickly became covered. He tried to plug the bleeding, laying his brother down on a chair and kneeling in front of him. Raymond’s crying became more breathy with each sob. He pulled off his jumper and wrapped it around his brother’s neck in a useless attempt to stem the flow of blood.

“Raymond, come on, come on.” Ernest took a deep breath, in an effort to keep his own tears inside. He picked his brother up again and held him close. It was only when Raymond’s sobs stopped suddenly that Ernest himself began to cry.

He put the child down again and started to back away from him. Raymond was no longer crying, no longer screaming, no longer in pain – but he was looking. Looking straight at Ernest, a glassy, accusing stare.

He sped through the door of the shelter, slamming it shut behind him and leant on it, tears streaming down his face. He screamed loudly, hoping his mum would hear, hoping that anyone would hear and help him.

A cold, unbearable wind hit him, and he shivered uncontrollably. Staring around at the crushed houses and the flames around him, Ernest instinctively turned and went back into the shelter.

Raymond was still there, still staring, still facing the door. Ernest slowly stepped over to him and picked his jumper up off of him. He hesitated for a moment, before slipping it back over his head. The scratchy wool felt infinitely better than the sticky, blood-stained parts that came into contact with his chest. But both felt hugely better than the bitter cold that had enveloped him outside the shelter.

He moved to the opposite side of the sanctuary, leant against the wall and slowly descended to the floor, loudly sobbing. He held his father’s pocket watch in his hand and stared at it for a moment. He screamed with a ferocious roar and angrily threw it against the side of the shelter.

As he did, he heard the noise of another loud explosion outside.

 

March, 1951

Doreen hurried out of the house and moved quickly across the yard in front of it. If her parents found out that he had gone missing again, it would be her that would be in trouble. After all, she was supposed to be the one taking care of him. She was the one responsible for getting him up in the morning, she was the one responsible for cooking his meals and getting him to help her father feed the animals and tend to the pregnant, hungry sheep. And she was the one responsible for making sure he didn’t go missing. Again.

Her parents hadn’t been very enthusiastic when Ernest’s father had asked if he could live with them. He’d said he couldn’t take care of him on his own and go out to work, not anymore. He would pay them any money for his upkeep, of course. As soon as money had been mentioned, they’d been only too happy to take him in. Of course we have to take him in, they’d said to Doreen – he’s family. Doreen wasn’t exactly sure how they were related, second cousins fourteen times removed or something like that. They dressed him in hand-me-downs and then pocketed the money they received every month.

Since Doreen was not strong enough to work in the fields, nor old enough to have found her own husband, she was the one contributing least to the house. Yes, she helped her mother clean and cook, and yes, she cleaned up all of her brother’s cuts and bruises, but now she had a role in the family. A proper job, she was the child-minder, looking after yet another young boy.

“Ernest!” She whispered harshly, quietly hoping he would be able to hear her, but her parents wouldn’t. “Ernest, where are you?”

There was no answer and Doreen looked around her, helplessly searching for a clue as to where to look. When no clue presented itself, she tried to think where he would go.

He liked the barn. He liked sitting in the hayloft and staring out the window, it was his favourite place to sit. But that was locked at night, there was no way in and only her father had the keys. As daring as Ernest might be, he would never dare to sneak into her parent’s bedroom and steal them.

Think, she told herself, where else would he go?

Then she remembered, the very first day he’d come out to them, just two months before, it had been up to her to give him the tour, introduce him slowly to life in the country. She’d taken him right to the edge of the farm, and they had spent almost an hour at one spot, looking out at the valley that separated their fields from the large hills that stretched across the countryside.

Ernest had been amazed by it, she remembered as she carefully stepped through the dark grass in front of her, the vastness of the landscape had silenced him. Since that first day, she’d often found him quietly staring out at the valley when he should have been helping out with the work.

And that was how she found him then, sat on the wooden post of the gate, leaning back against a thick tree trunk behind him.

She watched him, silhouetted against the moonlight. At fifteen, he still had the slender frame of childhood, yet there was a broadness beginning to creep in on his shoulders which gave away the man he would become.

“What are you doing out here?”

For a moment he said nothing to her, he simply turned and stared, soaking in the sight of her face, her milky skin glowing in the moonlight. And then he turned his head back to the hills ahead of him.

“It’s odd, isn’t it?” He asked, ignoring her question.

“What is?” She joined him at the gate, leaning instead of sitting, staring at him instead of the hills.

“You can live for years in London – the biggest city in the world – and you feel so big, just because you live there. Then you come out here and you realise just how small you are, just how big the world really is. Look at that.” He gestured to the space in front of him. “It’s so big, it’s bigger than the farm, it’s bigger than London. It’s bigger than any of us.”

“How old are you really?” Doreen asked the curiously sensitive boy sat next to her. He merely smiled at the joke but said nothing. There were several moments of contemplative silence where Doreen studied Ernest intently and Ernest studied nothing in particular, just as hard. “I know it’s difficult for you Ernest, being stuck here with strangers, not seeing your dad. Your mum…”

Ernest climbed off the post and faced her as she trailed off. “You can say it. I do know, it is my fault after all. She’s dead.”

Doreen said nothing. What could someone who hasn’t lost their mother possibly say to someone who had?

“It would have been her birthday today. Every year I’ve wanted to celebrate it, do something special for her, but Dad never acknowledged it – he barely acknowledged me. It’s because I killed her.”

“You didn’t kill her.”

“I promised my father I would look after her!” He shouted at her, unwelcome tears starting to form. “I told him I would keep her safe and I couldn’t! I didn’t even know where she was when the bomb hit.”

“That’s not your fault. Your mother was a grown woman, you were just a child – you were eight years! There was no way you could know where she was. You couldn’t have helped her.”

“What about Raymond?” Ernest stared at her and Doreen bowed her head, silent. “He would have been eight by now, if I hadn’t killed him!”

He descended into a series of racking sobs and Doreen put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. As she did she had to fight to keep herself from crying. “It’s not your fault, you hear me? It’s not your fault, it was war. Your brother, he was small. I’ve heard what happened, they said there’s no way he would have survived, even if you’d landed in a hospital bed when you jumped out that window. The way you got him out of that house… your mother would have been proud of you.”

“Proud? I let him die!”

“You were there with him at the end. He didn’t die alone, and that’s the most important thing. That baby died knowing that he was loved, that there was somebody there fighting for his life, willing to risk his own life.” Tears were streaming down Doreen’s face. She felt so sorry for the young man in front of her, he was so vulnerable, so fragile. “That was you, Ernest, you did that. He didn’t die alone. Your mother… she… she didn’t have anyone. But she would have been so happy knowing that you were looking after him instead of her.”

Ernest turned away from her and swallowed. More tears escaped from his eyes. After a moment he leant forward and gently kissed her on the lips. Startled, Doreen kissed back, before suddenly jumping away from him.

“Now, come on,” she sniffed, ignoring what had just happened, “we’d best get you to bed, you’re going to have to be up early tomorrow – Father wants you to help out with the lambing.”

She frogmarched him back across the fields, into the farmhouse and up the stairs towards his bedroom. The whole way she could hear him breathing loudly, trying to keep back the tears. He was still thinking about his mum, but her mind was on that kiss. Her parents would be horrified to know how many young men she had kissed, but Ernest was the youngest, and the only that had ever caused the hairs on her neck to prickle in the way that they had. His mouth had been firm on hers, she could still feel the slightest hint of stubble on his top lip. It had excited her in a way no man ever had before.

Ernest stopped and stared at his door. “Can’t I spend the night with you?”

Certainly not,” she bristled, “for a start, you’re too young. And secondly… well, secondly…”

“This isn’t about the kiss.” Ernest put a hand on her shoulder and she felt her legs go weak. “I just don’t want to be alone. Not tonight. I just need somebody to hold me. You’re the only person who cares about me. Doreen, please, just one night.”

“Right, well, perhaps you could, just for a few hours. But you do need to forget about that kiss, nothing can come of it.”

“There was no kiss.” Ernest smiled at her and walked into her bedroom. “Besides I’m sixteen soon.”

Doreen cautiously looked around the corridor before following him in. Ernest was more grown up than her brothers had ever been at that age. It was easy to forget how young he was.

They sat on the edge of her bed for a moment in almost complete silence.

“She wasn’t alone when she died.”

“Pardon?” Doreen only realised how tense she was as Ernest spoke. She was not in the present at all, just nervous, excited about what could happen next.

“Mum, when she died. She wasn’t alone.”

“Oh.” She was brought back to reality by the realisation that Ernest was not thinking about her, not trying to seduce her. He was still a boy, a young man grieving for his mother. “We were told that they found her in the garden.”

He shook his head and stared down at the floor. “They… they didn’t. I found her in the neighbour’s garden.”

“Oh, Ernest, I’m so sorry. If you… if you don’t want to talk about it, it’s ok.”

“No, it’s ok. I… I want to talk about it. My best friend, Jimmy, he died that night too.” Doreen took his hand but Ernest just smiled and pulled it away. “It’s stupid, really, I watched his house burn and I didn’t even know. I woke up and saw a fire, only a couple of streets away, I didn’t even realise it was Jimmy’s house until they told me he’d died. Well, Jimmy… you see, he, he always had a vivid imagination, he… he used to tell me that he had a cousin on the other side of the city, and that he and his family went to their air raid shelter one night and they were found the next morning and they’d all drowned. A dodgy air raid shelter, built in the wrong place or something. One of the bombs cracked a mains pipe in the ground, and the shelter just… filled up.”

“They drowned in an air raid shelter?”

“He swore it was true, I never really believed him. But that night – the night my mum died – there was this puddle of water in the corner, and I swear it was just getting bigger and bigger.” He pulled a pocket watch from his trousers. Doreen tried to get a glimpse of it, but he held it tightly in his hand. It was almost like he’d forgotten she was even there. She could just see that the glass was cracked and one of the arms bent. “When Raymond… when Raymond died… I threw this at the wall. It was my dad’s, I felt… I felt like I’d let him down, that I didn’t deserve to be his son any more. It landed in the puddle at the same moment that the last bomb hit. I watched it floating there in that puddle, and I just couldn’t stop thinking, what if I’m next? Raymond was on the chair, I could still see his face, his eyes open, staring at me. I couldn’t stay there…”

Ernest began to cry and Doreen put her hand on his. “I left him there, I left my brother there in that… tin shack and I went outside. The… the whole house was flattened, completely destroyed, so was the Anderson’s. I climbed through a hole in the fence, and I started to move towards their shelter. Theirs was above ground, I… I thought it would be safer, that if it started to fill with water that we could just… open the door and it would be ok. But I got to the door and the all clear sounded and I… I turned back to face the houses and they were nothing, just two piles of rubble in the street, and I… I saw, I saw this leg, sticking out of the rubble.”

Doreen put a hand to her mouth as she gasped. Ernest was shaking as he continued his story.

“She was… buried, but somehow… I knew it was her. I started to dig her out, and… and she was cold and… and naked.”

“Naked?” Doreen asked. “You mean, she’d…?”

Ernest laughed through his tears. “Our own next door neighbour. All the time that my father was out there fighting, my mother was…”

“Oh, Ernie…” Doreen pulled him into a hug.

“That’s why it’s my fault. If I had looked after her like my father had asked, she would have been there with me and Raymond. If I had kept a closer eye on her, then, then she wouldn’t have been able to do anything with that… She would have heard that air raid siren, she would have taken Raymond and she would have woken me up and they would both still be alive.”

They rocked together, tight in embrace until they pulled one another down onto the bed. She held him close, stroking the back of his head. Doreen was silent for a long time, as she felt tears running down her own face. It was only when she felt his lip brush against hers that she pulled away from him and sat up.

Ernest sat up again and took hold of her hand with one hand and cupped her face with his other.

Doreen felt a soft, pleasant tingle run through her body as his hand traced its way down her chin, fingered the top of her blouse and then moved over the top of it to her breast.

“Ernest – “

“Please.”

“You need to get some sleep. I’m going to go… brush my teeth, you get ready for bed. I have a blanket and I’ll get a spare pillow from the cupboard, you can… you can sleep on the floor.”

Doreen crossed the hall into the bathroom. She stared into the mirror at her own reflection, at her tear stained face and sighed. She could barely believe what the boy had told her, everything that he had seen that night.

She wanted to comfort him, to make him feel better, but she didn’t know what to do, what to say. The boy had lost so much to this stupid war, so much in one night and she didn’t know how to make it better.

When she returned to her room, Ernest was naked in her bed. And she found a way to make him feel better.

 

April, 1957

Ernest walked in the door, kissed his wife on the lips and handed her a small wooden box. “Happy Anniversary.”

Doreen ripped off the bow and opened the box to find a pair of diamond earrings. “Oh Ernie, this must have cost you so much! Can we afford this?”

“I’ve got news!” Ernest grinned. “Me and dad have decided to expand. We’re opening up a second store.”

“You are?” Doreen flung her arms around her husband and hugged him tightly. “Come on, sit down, I’ve cooked you your favourite dinner.”

Ernest sat and watched as she brought two steaming plates of roast chicken through from the kitchen. She sat down opposite him and started to eat, but stopped when she realised he was continuing to watch her.

“What is it, Ernie? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, honey, I was just looking at you.” He smiled at her and Doreen felt her face redden. “Can you believe we’ve been married for five years already? I never thought I’d be married by the time I was thirty, let alone celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary when I’m only twenty one.”

“We didn’t exactly have much choice, really, did we? Not that I regret it for a moment of course.” Doreen put her fork down. “Why don’t you go upstairs and see him before you eat? I can slip this back in the oven, keep it warm.”

Ernest looked at the clock hanging above their heads and smiled at Doreen. “I think I’d like that, it feels like I haven’t seen him for weeks.”

“Off you go then,” said Doreen, already on her feet, picking up their untouched plates, “just don’t keep him up too long.”

“I won’t,” he promised her, “and as soon as I’m done with him, I’m spending the rest of the night with you.”

Ernest climbed the stairs and slipped into the darkness of his son’s room. “Hey kiddo,” he whispered, “are you awake?”

“Daddy?” A small voice sounded from underneath the duvet.

“Mind your eyes, son.” Ernest turned the light on and saw the young boy pulling himself up into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes as he did.

“Daddy!” He hugged his father as Ernest sat on the bed next to him.

“Oh, God, I’ve missed you, I’ve really missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, daddy, where have you been?”

“Me and Grandpa have been on a little holiday.”

“Where have you been?” The boy asked sleepily.

“Lots of places, we went to London and to Birmingham and to Bristol. We even went to Wales, that’s a whole other country.”

Ernest proceeded to tell his young son all about his plans for expansion of the small corner shop that he ran with his father. All the while a puzzled look adorned Raymond’s face.

“How is Grandpa going to work in two shops at once? That’s unpossible.”

“Impossible, and no it’s not, Grandpa’s going to work in the new shop and I’m going to work in the old one.”

“Maybe… maybe I could work there too?”

“Perhaps when you’re older, would you like that?”

“I’m nearly six.” The young boy said with a grin and Ernest couldn’t help but smile as he watched him, his head cocked to one side, like a small puppy, considering for a moment before smiling and nodding enthusiastically. “I like playing in the shop.”

“Well, when you’re older, me, you and Grandpa are going to have lots of shops to play in. We’re going to have shops in every town in the whole of Britain and we’re going to live in big, beautiful expensive houses, and have maids and servants to help us with everything. Would you like that?”

“Won’t we get lost? If the house is too big, we might lose each other.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure I never lose you. Now, you’d best get to sleep, or we’ll both be in trouble with mummy.” He kissed his son on the forehead and made his way over to the doorway. He switched the light off and was about to leave when a voice spoke in the darkness.

“I love you, daddy.”

Ernest smiled. “I love you too, Raymond.”

 

 

You can read the next chapter here 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Prologue

March, 2001

 

The lights flickered out above him, and he took a deep breath.

It was time.

He hadn’t planned this, it wasn’t something he’d set out to do. Even two hours ago it wasn’t something he’d ever thought about. But then he’d seen the shop.

At first, he hadn’t noticed it, but it had appeared in the corner of his eye like a speck of dust, before the familiar name loomed out and stopped him dead in his tracks.

He hadn’t left the house in a long time and he had taken for granted that the world around him had stayed the same. The fish and chip shop was now an Indian takeaway; the park on the opposite side of the road now lay in disrepair; and the hairdressers, video rental shop and Mr Singh’s corner shop had all been knocked into one big supermarket.

Not just any supermarket. A Cromley’s.

He’d wandered, in a daze, into the shop, and queued up, as if somehow expecting to find him serving on the other side of the counter. It was only when he got to the front and the boy had asked if he needed any assistance, that he realised he didn’t have anything in his hands.

His eyes quickly settled on the first thing he saw behind the boy, and requested it. He’d paid his money and then slipped the small green lighter into his pocket, before slowly heading to a small café area on the far side of the shop. He’d been the only one there, and had slowly begun to fiddle with the lighter. It was then he’d made up his mind.

Now – an hour or so later – he was crouching underneath a small plastic wooden-effect table, the knuckles on his right hand white from clutching the lighter so hard. A small bead of sweat ran down the side of his face.

A pair of feet walked confidently into his field of vision, paused at the table opposite him for a moment and then moved towards him.

Raymond found himself holding his breath, the black shoes in need of a good polishing – he couldn’t help but notice, couldn’t help but still care a little bit – were only inches away, and a second pair had joined them, stepping up closely behind the first.

“Tim, stop it,” the voice of the boy who had served him earlier, “someone might see.”

“There’s no one else here.” An older, deeper voiced issued from somewhere above the second pair of feet.

“The window.”

“Why do you think I turned the lights down?” The second voice – Tim – whispered.

The first pair of feet away from Raymond, toward the second pair and he felt the table move slightly, as Tim stepped forward, pushing the younger man against it.

There was a gentle smacking noise and Raymond let himself breathe out while the two men either made enough noise to mask the sound of his shallow breaths, or were too distracted to hear him.

“Tim!” Raymond heard a surprised shout as he saw the pair of black polyester trousers – standard Cromley’s issue – fall to the floor, landing crumpled atop the dusty shoes.

“How else do you expect me to get what I want?”

“Not here.”

Suddenly, the eyes of the boy who had served Raymond earlier were looking directly into his own. They widened in shock for a moment, but he said nothing. He stood up, taking his trousers with him.

“You’re not going to get in trouble. I’m the boss. Come on, just once. I spend all day watching you sit behind that counter serving those dickheads that come in here, and I have to stop myself from taking you, right there and then. Just once, please, let me lie you across that counter and – ”

“Alright. I get your point.”

“Not as often as I’d like you to.”

A graphic, uninvited image appeared in Raymond’s mind, and he was suddenly thankful that he’d only seen their feet.

“Let’s just cash up and everything first, yeah?”

“You’re such a goody-two shoes.” The older voice chuckled, and Raymond heard the soft padded sound of a hand gently smacking the arse of the till assistant. He watched the older man’s feet move away, out of sight and started to get up.

“Wait.” The boy whispered. Raymond heard the sound of a door, a short distance away, opening and then swinging shut.

“You didn’t say anything. Why?” Raymond asked, pulling himself up from underneath the table

“Tim’s very secretive,” The boy stepped away from him, “he wouldn’t be very happy if anyone had heard us.”

“Can’t say I was that happy hearing it myself.”

“What are you doing here? The shop’s closed.”

“My name is Raymond Cromwell.” Raymond offered by way of an explanation and he surprised himself with his honesty, it wasn’t a name he’d used in a long time, and he was surprised he still thought of himself as that person. Perhaps it was being here, in this place.

The boy shrugged and stared blankly at him.

“This is my father’s business.”

“Right, of course,” he laughed, “then that gives you every right to be hiding underneath tables at eight o’clock at night.”

“I was -”

“What’s that for?”

Raymond looked down at the lighter still clenched in his hand.

“Oh. This is…”

“What? Some sort of insurance job?”

“Sorry?”

“Your dad needs some money or something, so you come up with some plan to burn down one of the stores, right?”

“No, I – ”

“It’d be me that gets the blame. Me or Tim, you know? They’d say we hadn’t closed up properly. We’d get interviewed by the police, the insurance people, they’d say it was our fault.”

“No, listen, you don’t understand…” Raymond stopped suddenly.

How have I not thought of this before? He dropped the lighter on the floor and dashed towards the door.

“Hey, stop, where are you going?”

“I’d forgotten… I can’t believe…” Raymond tried the door, but it was locked.

“Forgotten what? What are you talking about?” The young man followed him across the shop and Raymond grinned at him.

“Do you have the keys? Give me the keys.” Raymond took them from him, still grinning like a madman.

“Thank you,” he gushed, glancing at the name badge on the young man’s chest, “Harry! Thank you so much, Harry.”

Without another word Raymond shoved open the door and dashed out into night air, leaving Harry bewildered in the doorway, the keys still swinging in the lock.

 

*                *                *

 

Nearly ten years later and a hundred and fifty miles away, Ernest Cromwell’s face thudded onto the top of his desk. The feeling that struck him the most in that moment was the intensity of his fifteen hour stubble pressing into his cheek and then a shiver passed through him causing him to forget it.

He couldn’t feel the wound on his back, it was numb, and there was no pain, but he could tell it was there, knew it was deep and that it was quickly draining the life from him.

His eyes lazily focused on the silhouette of his attacker – his murderer – fleeing the study and he tried to think, to figure out where he had gone wrong. His body was immobile, he could barely move, it seemed to take a massive effort to even blink, but his brain, his mind was alive. He thought of his business, his sons and his daughter, and their families – his grandchildren. He thought briefly, angrily of Harry. But then he remembered his wife and their life together.

For a moment, as images of Doreen swam in front of his eyes he felt happy. As his last breath rattled through his throat, he still didn’t understand what had changed, what had led him to this death, and that was what he felt in the last moment of life. Frustration. Ernest Cromwell had known, had controlled everything and yet he had failed to anticipate this moment.

He would never know that his fate had been sealed on that cold spring day nine years earlier. All he knew now was the gun lying on his desk, the barrel of it pointing directly at him.

And then he knew nothing. And never would again.

 

 

Read the first full chapter of Memories of a Murder here

The Nicest Rejection Letter I Ever Had

I said way back in the first post on this blog, that I was doing it because I wanted to start writing again.

Specifically, what I mean by that is I want to start concentrate on my writing again. It’s not just about writing, it’s not just about story telling, it’s about trying to get Memories of a Murder published.

Having worked in the book trade for the last seven and a half years, you might ask why I haven’t tried before. The truth is, I have. I’ve just never done it to any great extent.

I have contacted a couple of agents that I’ve met, I’ve spoken to other authors and I’ve spoken to publishers. Ultimately, I’m in the wrong part of the industry to really influence my writing career – at least right now.

Don’t get me wrong – once I’m published, I can put my book in front of store displays in every WHSmith in the country, but before then, I need an agent, and then that agent needs to find a publisher who’ll take the book.

I have only spoken to a small handful of agents – literally, you could count them on one hand – and from all of them I’ve had polite rejections… except one.

Camilla Wray works at the Darley Anderson Agency – the agency which represents the likes of Lesley Pearse and Martina Cole – and a short couple of weeks after sending off some sample pages, Camilla rang me.

We discussed the book, we discussed plans for future stories, and she asked to see the rest of the book – I even rewrote sections of it based on that initial conversation while I was waiting for her verdict.

Camilla emailed me back with the best rejection letter I’ve ever had. Memories of a Murder was not the sort of book that the agency normally focuses on:

“I was thinking we could try and work on focusing the crime and bring it to the forefront at the beginning, but after reading your manuscript I don’t think this would be a beneficial thing to do and would be charging the essence of your story

 

I don’t think it is right to pigeon hole the manuscript in the genre and for me, Memories of a Murder is as a fantastic tale about families, deceit, greed and love. The murder is the crescendo of the story as opposed to the cause and pushing force, and it was important for me to recognize this.

Camilla’s response both encouraged and discouraged me at the same time. Here, I had someone finally telling me what I thought I had known all along – I’m a good writer – but she was still rejecting it.

However, as important as it is to get an agent, it’s important to get the right agent, and vice versa for the agent, it’s important to get the right book. Although I knew it, I didn’t really get it until quite recently. It doesn’t mean that the book is bad or that the agent is wrong, it’s just not a fit.

Camilla even went so far as to say if I ever wrote a more traditional crime novel and was without representation, then I should get in contact.

For the next couple of years, I started trying to write that more traditional crime novel, and a few false starts and some scribblings I wrote the first ten thousand words of The Killer Inside.

I don’t feel the same way about The Killer Inside as much as I do about Harry Hicks, though, and that’s partly why I stalled in my writing career. I was trying to fit into a box that wasn’t the right shape.

Maybe one day, I’ll finish The Killer Inside or something similar and I can get in contact with Camilla again – but for now, I’m refocusing on Harry and Memories of a Murder.