We hope to bring back the short stories, news and comment from the writing team David Coles and Jack Everett, aka Everett Coles, from Adele Abbot and from our friends... we write fantasy and science fiction, historical and thriller fiction and may poke our noses into places where they're not wanted!
Studies in Shadow...from the team at Archimedes Presse breaking news: book of the month for July at the Book Awards ~ 'The Diamond Seekers'
Saturday, August 10, 2013
A STRANGER WILL TELL YOU MORE THAN A FRIEND
A STRANGER WILL TELL YOU MORE THAN A FRIEND Part
of our morality tale by
“Mind if I join you Harry?”
I am, as by now you will have
gathered, many things but one thing I’m not and that’s ungracious and
gratuitously rude. Give me reason to be so, and I will, but it was Gerald’s
presence I resented, he had yet to rile me.
“Not at all old boy. One thing James
is not, and that’s skimpy on supplies. Plenty of glasses in the cabinet and, as
of yet, I’ve not drunk all the Scotch. Nuts and bites over there as well. Have
you eaten Gerald? I expect there’s food enough to feed the fifty-thousand in
the kitchen. All the staff may have gone though.”
“No, I ate at the club.” He
grabbed a glass from the bow-fronted, walnut drinks cabinet, a crystal affair
with the Devenish coat of arms: a pair of peacocks embossed on it; and then,
much to my annoyance, took the decanter and placed it on another table out of
“Have you met up with all the
rest?” I asked, standing and making a point of retrieving what I considered to
be mine. I replaced it heavily in its square coaster, and carried on speaking.
“There’s some blackjack, and
whatever, going on elsewhere that should interest you old sport.” Hoping that
he took my point of wanting to be on my own.
I didn’t know him well and didn’t
want to. He was a tall imposing man, late fifties with a full head of grey
hair, a gushing personality which suited his proprietorship of one of London’s
oldest and most prestigious gambling clubs -- strictly members only. The very
last thing I wanted was some monotonous conversation about the intricacies of
the roulette table.
“Last thing I need is to watch a
collection of inebriates throwing money at each other. If it was coming my way,
then it would be a different matter.” He laughed in that pretentious way, the
kind that means ‘I know more of what you’re speaking about than you, but I’ll indulge
I fashioned a smirk in return,
not seeking to hide my irritation.
“In any case, this library is
sort of a second home for me.” Ignoring my far from gracious gesture he
expanded without being asked, as he made a beeline to one of the shelves that
lined the entire room.
“My book is here, look. Have a
thumb through while you’re deliberating on whatever it is that keeps you here
in solitude.” Knowing exactly where it was, he handed me a thick, beige colored
hardback with the title embossed in blue lettering: ‘From Dulwich To The
Fastnet, And Return.’
A frequent guest then.
“I’m President of the Royal Ocean
Racing Club, and off to Cowes on Sunday. Blowing the start horn for this year’s
race. Took part in it on six occasions. Twice as crew and then skippered my own
yacht on the other four, runner-up twice.” He frowned in disappointment, which
I must say I felt, having tasted defeat a few times myself. “Never did win the
blighter.” A pause and a drink, as if to wash away the memory. “I’m only here
for tomorrow’s drive and then I’m off. Have some business to discuss with his
highness, my friend James. Then I’ll be gone. You here for both days Harry?”
Blast I thought, he wants to
“Yes I am. Cancelled our own
shoot due to the wet winter we had in Yorkshire. Had to put it back for a week
or so. James throws such a good bash at everything, thought I’d spend the
weekend down here.” I never referred to my friend as ‘Bots’ to unwelcome
I use Crockett’s, his gaming club
a lot, as it has one of the finest private eating venues in London, far better
than Boddles, my own club, which I only use for meetings and such, not even
taking rooms there, although of course I could. The other great attraction is
the sights to behold inside the plush and comfortable premises and not
necessarily do I mean the winning and losing aspects of the clientele. The
women that frequent the place are normally extremely desirable and worth the
view. I have, on more than one occasion, met and enjoyed the company of
That was where I had first seen
Tamy, and I hasten to add, I had seen her there more than once.
“You say you have business to
speak of with James, Gerald? Must be important to drag you all the way from
town. Bit of a wide diversion to the Isle of Wight coming here though isn’t
it?” I lit another cigarette; I always smoke too much when bored.
“A mite delicate old chap, a
question of money. Partially I guess due to you, and your introduction of the
club to him.” He refilled his glass, this time leaving the decanter where it
“How’s that then?” I followed
suit but poured more, as if to emphasis my co-opted ownership.
“He intends to call on you for
the financial assistance he needs. Did it not cross your mind that it was
rather fortuitous that you were invited? Jimmy was diligent in finding out
about that weather you had. He had good reason to be. It wasn’t done through
simple benevolence or past associated Guards allegiances you know. He’s a user
Harry, and a loser. An inveterate and unlucky gambler is our Jimmy.”
“He is what?” This news shook me
so dramatically that I flew from the chair, ending up standing directly in
front of him.
“Sit down Harry, it’s not my
fault that our mutual friend cannot keep his hands in his pockets for long, now
is it? I’m sorry for this, but he’s mortgaged up to the hilt and then some. I
have his boat which I’m selling, but you were setup a bit I’m afraid. The
weather was a bonus of course, and when you said that you were coming, well, it
sort of saved the day.” A supercilious grin followed that remark and lingered
whilst he carried on.
“Otherwise, he would’ve had to
think of another way of, how can I say, enlisting your help. Jimmy did suggest
the ‘twelfth’ to be a genial time in your calendar, and I was not going to miss
my appointment at the Royal Squadron. Prince Phillip will be there on Sunday
you know. I’m hosting the lunch for him. Jimmy phoned me as soon as you arrived
and told of the card game he'd arranged. You’re a creature of habit old boy, I
knew where to find you. He is worried Harry. He’s hoping that you and your
father could open the vaults up at ‘Annie’s‘ and lend him some cash on
His insistence on using ‘Jimmy’
as his reference to James was particularly grating on my shredded nerves.
“Good grief man, what are you
saying?” I had regained my composure somewhat and was now seated. “How much
does he owe for goodness sake?”
“After what I expect to get for
the boat, almost twenty. That’s without interest, but I won’t settle that on
him now. Thought he was good for it you see, had no reason to think differently
until he came clean a month or so back.”
“Twenty what, thousand, surely he
“Where does that brain of yours
live Paterson, cloud cuckoo land! Millions man, be real please. I wouldn’t have
gone to all this trouble for a meager twenty-thousand.”
I sat heavily back into that red,
winged, leather arm chair and felt swallowed up by it; claustrophobic in its
embrace, with the bitter realization that my lifelong belief had been wrong.
“Did you know that he’s engaged?”
It just spurted out uncontrollably, as if it could be a blow of some kind, and
thereby giving me breathing space to comprehend all of this.
He laughed quietly then added as
if an afterthought. “No, I didn’t. Has she got money perchance, that would be a
bonus? Is that why he’s marrying her?”
That had been one of the things I
had been trying to find out by telephoning so many of both Bots and my friends.
I had no knowledge then, nor suspicions, of a financial issue but it was part
of my worries into her motives in so readily accepting the engagement. I had
stupidly thought that she may have been after Bots now missing fortune.
“Name of Tamy, short for
Kymberly, but I never got her surname. Very attractive woman,” searching for
time, I declared.
Gerald’s attention up to this
point had alternated from his glass, his fat Cuban cigar, and any point on the
wall between the door and the empty fireplace which his matching chair faced.
Seldom had he directly looked at me. On the mention of the name Tamy, his neck
almost broke, as his startled reaction whipped it around to confront me.
“Tamy!” he exclaimed.
“Know her Gerald?” It was an
unnecessary question as it was obvious in the way he had replied that he did.
His answer though was surprising.
“No, can’t say I’ve heard the
name before. Very nice for James, and of course her. Look old chap, I’m a bit
knackered and I’m sure all this talk about money could be continued some other
time. I’m for bed. Goodnight Harry, enjoyed the conversation. There are some
good snaps in the book if nothing else. I never wrote it, just dictated some
stuff into a machine. Written by a ghostwriter; soulless.”
With that, and an emptying gulp
of his whiskey, he was gone. Leaving that last spoken word dispassionately
trapped in the smoke swirling air.
I was up early not because of the
night’s events, but I always checked my guns before using them. I am, it’s
true, a creature of habit. Back home at the Hall I had a dedicated gun room and
it was a ritual on a Saturday morning to clean them all, used or not. Here the
case was at the foot of a wardrobe. I ran a wad through both barrels then, with
one final wipe and a quick polish over the stock and forearm, they were put
away, waiting to be collected by whoever was appointed to be my loader.
The sun was low but bright, with
the day offering promise, as I set off for a stroll around the outside of the
house. I hoped my demeanor would improve to match it. There were no signs of
other guests up at this hour as I passed through the high corridors, and then
out through the main double doors and into the shadow cast by that morning
As I rounded a corner I saw the
two of them, Bots and Gerald, on the terrace where I had left Tamy the previous
day. They were having a gesticulating conversation and not unnaturally I
suspected it was about me. Having no wish to face them, and talk over what I
had been told, I dived off to my left and entered the building through a
service door directly below where they stood. A bolted, black wrought-iron gate
was at the top of a winding concrete stairway and I would have been able to
hear what was being said, but unfortunately I had missed most. It was Gerald
who brought the proceedings to an end as their shadows passed in towards the
main part of the house.
“Just get rid of her Jimmy and
the slate is wiped clean. You have my word.” I heard no response from
‘Get rid of her.’ In what
sense I wondered?
I continued with my stroll,
mulling over in my mind all the information I had garnered from my enquiries. That,
coupled with the knowledge of Bot’s debts and Gerald Neil’s just spoken
request, brought nothing to silence those doubts about Tamy and her involvement
in all of this, as indeed there seemed to be one. One more phone call just
might open the door.
My father, Lord Elliot, had raced
in the Fastnet and through our family name I had good connections inside the
Royal Yacht Squadron, but my would-be informant was of an even higher station
than my own in society. I needed to have my speech rehearsed before calling,
and time was at a premium. He, would be shooting today!
An hour after placing my first
call to ‘Ten Gloucestershire’ I had all the answers.
“Thank you Sir,” I said closing
my phone. The trouble now was, I didn’t know how to apply them.
Bots was nowhere to be found and
neither was Tamy. I had asked three members of staff as to their whereabouts
and drew a blank from each. I was dressed for the shoot and on my way to the
swimming pool as a final place to check, when I saw him coming in the opposite
direction, but I never got a chance to speak, being ambushed as I passed
through a reception room.
“Hello there young Harry, saw you
last night when you looked engaged in other things. Miles away you were. How’s
Elliot these days? I haven’t seen him since that debate on fox hunting. Your
father’ not one of those who turn up regularly, simply for the day’s
“Sir Giles, good to see you.” I
shook his proffered hand. “I think he’s far too busy to worry about the
allowance he’s due for any attendance at the House of Lords. I rarely see him
myself. In charge at Queen Anne’s Gate so he lives virtually all the time at
the London town house.” Bots had disappeared, but he must have seen the two of
us I reasoned.
“Must say that you always stand
out in a crowd Harry. There’s the rest of us keeping up appearances with all
the regalia of plus-fours and shooting jackets, and then there’s you. Some
moth-eaten old leather jerkin and a T-shirt. You could do with a haircut as well
by the look of things. Never feel conspicuous; even slightly?” It was asked
with a smile and not as a reproach or dismissal. “Come on you scruffy young
man, let’s go bag us a few brace for chef’s fricassee tonight, I hear he does a
rather presentable one.”
I laughed, and momentarily my
mind was distracted from Bots. My father and Sir Leonard Giles were old
friends, and I knew him well.
“Is it a prerequisite to becoming
Solicitor General, to possess a silver tongue Sir Giles? You always manage to
capture me with your repartee. I see your lady wife is with you. Is she staying
in the house or are the women on the field of battle, watching from a safe
distance?” We continued in our discourse as we made our way to the assembly
Bots was there, and with Tamy.
However, there was no Gerald Neil to be seen.
“For those who do not already
know of my engagement, may I present my fiancée to you ladies and gentleman;
Miss Kymberly Burns. She will be loading for me today. I would be obliged if
the ‘gentlemen’ all kept their envious eyes on the birds in front and not the
one behind me.” He gleefully proclaimed to a collective cheer of
congratulations, but I was puzzled, mouthing the word ‘why’ when I caught his
eye. He gave an imperceptible shake of the head and a grimace that anyone else
would have to have been quick to see.
He led the party off with me
trailing at the rear.
I was stationed at the end of the
line of fourteen guns. Usually the least proficient shooters take up the
centre, as that is where the birds would fly more in a pack. Grouse are very
fast and fly low, then ascend quickly into a glide, making them extremely
difficult to hit. The tall conifers, that faced us, would not make it easy to
pick them out. Any bird not killed outright would be dead as soon as a dog got
to it. They were in front of us, with the beaters, barking in a frenzied
I had the right flank, with the
sun at my back. To my immediate left was Bots with Tamy behind, still unloading
his guns from their leather slips. To his left were Sir Giles and his estate
loader. Mine stood behind me holding one loaded gun, the other was loaded and
broken, lying across my arm.
It was my first real chance to
speak, but Bots took the initiative away from me.
“Harry I’m sorry that you had to
hear all about my plight from that bore Gerald Neil, it was taken out of my
hands, but all is okay now I can assure you. I won’t be calling on our
friendship and embarrassing myself further. I’m going abroad, selling up here
and running. Too much has taken place in my life since father died, and in
truth the responsibilities of heritage became a tiresome load to carry. I
didn’t handle things very well.”
“All’s fine with me Bots. You and
Tamy okay? She handled guns before?” I asked but never had a satisfactory
reply, as in the distance the start whistle was blown and the noise of the
beaters cut through the silence that lay before of us.
“Ear muffs, Ladies and Gents.
We’re off!” The estate manager shouted.
It was on the third flush when it
all went so tragically wrong.
All I saw was a flash out of my
left eye. I heard a simultaneous scream and something hit the back of my head
with a wallop.
As I turned, Bots was on the
ground. The unbroken gun lay between him and I, and the misshapen remains of a
skull, half on and half off that once belonged to Kymberly, was nestled in his
hands. She was dead. Part of her head was what had hit me!
My instinct was to pick up the
gun and make it safe. The only time that any gun is not dangerous is when it is
unloaded and not in human hands. It was then that I knew what had happened.
Now here is where you finally
have that chance to make up your mind about me. Those previous impressions are
either going to be found just, or misplaced.
As I broke the gun open, two
cartridge cases were ejected.
There have been cases of
accidental death due to the firing of a shotgun, but a Purdey is a side by side
affair, with two hammers and two triggers. To pull one....may be an accident.
To pull two, requires a tiny but nevertheless deliberate physical movement of
withdrawal of the finger from one trigger, and then insertion onto the other,
is murder. One cannot pull ‘through’ both triggers.
I inserted a live cartridge in
the left barrel. It would not have ejected if not fired.
Sir Leonard was the next person
to hold the gun which I thrust upon him. I saw him empty that live round as I
comforted and pulled my friend away, whispering in his ear. “It’s okay Bots, I
know what you’ve done and I’ve covered it.”
“I knew you would Harry, I’m so
A weeks or so later at the
inquest, with the Coroner taking evidence from James, the serving Government’s
Solicitor General and of course me, it was judged to have been another of those
accidents where the inexperienced are allowed to handle firearms.
The case made headline news,
internationally, as do most involving the English gentry, but nothing untoward
was discovered by any inquisitive journalist. None had my connections, and the
power that they had, to do research.
You see here is the twist in all of
this, and what I found out when Highgrove called me back earlier that morning.
Kymberly Burns, under another
name, was Gerald’s lover when he stood trial for the murder of a woman he was
seeing at the same time as her. It was her testimony that refuted the
circumstantial evidence that the Police had. He was found not guilty on the
strength of that attestation.
Bots later confirmed that Tamy
was extorting money from Gerald, he heard that on the terrace that morning, and
she had been doing so for years, hence her visits to the club. The phrase, get
rid of, meant precisely that. Kill her! James saw it as his only way in
protecting his family’s name.
As a way of justifying my actions
to myself, I figured that as she had covered Gerald’s guilt, she had contributed
to her own death. I felt no impulse to declare exactly what had happened, and
thereby destroy my friend.
The trouble is, I know that I do
not escape condemnation in this sordid affair. I am trying to come to terms
with it. Something that comes from living a life ruled by tradition.