A Family Drama In Sixteen Scenes
by Jack Kendle (Writing as Airn Hethaway)
“Brrr!!! It’s bloody cold here! Why is it always so damn cold here?”
The young man, fair-haired and blue-eyed, aged about twenty or so, stood on the high wall of his family home, Elsingham, the light breeze tugging at his wayward locks. He hugged himself, stamping his feet in an effort to get the circulation going. He wasn’t dressed for the climate; a thin cotton shirt, pulled by the wind from the waistband of his snugly-fitting trousers, which in turn were tucked into soft leather knee-length boots.
“You call this cold?” laughed his companion, similarly clad, although his raven-black hair was tucked in beneath a woollen hat. “It’s a lovely spring day, Hamlyn!” he continued, giving his friend a playful punch on his arm. “Look, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. And only a light breeze! Perfect day, I’d say.” He laughed again, giving his friend a quick affectionate hug.
He and Hamlyn were boyhood friends, almost inseparable since they had first met aged five or so. Although the fair-haired man was his social superior, both young men ignored the fact. They were close friends, had often ended up in some sort of daredevil scrape or other, getting each other out of tough spots, covering for each other. Hamlyn looked at his friend, a sad smile playing on his full, ruby lips. He couldn’t remember a time when Horatio, for that was the dark-haired man’s name, was there for him, always looking on the bright side, always upbeat, encouraging. Horatio was named after the great admiral Nelson, by a father whose lifelong passion had been the eighteenth-century sailor’s life and battles. It was not unusual that young Horatio had been teased in his youth for his name and Hamlyn, himself blessed – or cursed – with an odd name often stood up for his friend, deepening the bonds between them. Actually, because his father had also been called Hamlyn (all the eldest sons had borne that name in the family for generations) he had been given the nickname of ‘Prince’ at some point and it had stuck. Most people called him that rather than by his rather odd first name.
Hamlyn, despite his social position, wealth and standing in the community, which was one of the reasons for his royal-sounding nickname, was a serious young man, almost broody, they said. Recently he had become even more withdrawn and Horatio had found himself worrying more and more about his friend.
In part, it was understandable. Hamlyn’s father had died fairly recently and the young man was deeply affected by the sudden death of the man he looked up to, admired so much. It didn’t help matters that his mother had found another man within what most people said was an almost indecently short span of time. And not only another man, but Hamlyn’s uncle, his father’s younger brother. The two brothers had been as different as chalk and cheese. The whole family remarked on their dissimilarities when the ‘clan’ got together at birthdays, christenings or funerals. The fact that he and Hamlyn’s mother had got together so fast did not escape scrutiny by the family and many of Hamlyn’s maiden aunts had expressed strong disapproval over their Meissen cups of Lapsang.
Hamlyn and his uncle did not see eye to eye, to say the least. Hamlyn thought he was all his father was not. Where his father had been generous, Claude had been mean. Where Hamlyn senior had been successful, Claude had failed and Claude had most certainly not been as good-looking as his elder brother. It was as if Nature had overdone it a bit with him; the eyes were a bit too widely set, the lips too full, the hair prematurely balding, the figure gone to seed too early in life. Claude was a known drunk and womaniser and Prince couldn’t for the life of him see how or why his mother had become so attracted to him. Until then he had loved his mother, or rather, he respected her. Love would be too strong a word. At times he found her shallow, a little frivolous, not really equal to her late husband’s intellect and noble character. Yet he loved her well enough. If his father had seen something in her, then she had to have some qualities he himself could not discern, so in effect, they tolerated each other, but not much more than that.
However, now, a barrier had grown between them. Prince could never forgive his mother for what she had done, and so soon after his father’s death, too. He felt it as if it were a personal betrayal and could not understand his mother’s behaviour.
The two young men stood in silence for a few moments, looking out from the high wall over the estuary. “It’s the wind whistling in over the water makes it so cold,” grumbled Hamlyn, “my bollocks have frozen off, it’s so damn freezing. Let’s go back inside. Why did you drag me out here anyway, Horatio?”
His companion looked keenly over at his friend. There was a reason why he had asked Hamlyn out here, but now it came to it, he could hardly bring himself to say it.
“Look, er… Prince…” he stammered, unsure how to proceed.
“Come on, Hobs, out with it!” Hamlyn urged.
“Are you and Poppy still an item?” Horatio said, the first thing that came to mind, the question out of his mouth before he could stop it. He dropped his gaze, he couldn’t look his boyhood friend in the eye and, blushing furiously, inwardly kicked himself for the moment of weakness. He had long ago decided he wouldn’t go there, wouldn’t pry into his friend’s relationship with Poppy.
They had both known Poppy for about the same length of time. Although not of the same class as Hamlyn, she was still richer than Horatio and her father and Hamlyn’s had been partners in various business ventures. It had been assumed from his early teens that Hamlyn would eventually marry Poppy.
“Poppy? Me? An item? Why do you ask?” Hamlyn’s brow furrowed as he peered at his friend.
Horatio was annoyed with himself. That hadn’t been what he had intended to say, but it had been preying on his mind for a few weeks now, how he viewed his best friend’s relationship with Poppy. He found he was for some reason discontent recently, that it felt as if he would eventually ‘lose’ his friend to Poppy, which was silly really. Why did the fact that Prince and Poppy might be an ‘item’ depress him? He wasn’t sure. Nonetheless, that really hadn’t been the reason he had asked his friend to come outside for a chat. What he had to say had been something else entirely. Something much more serious – and unsettling. He just couldn’t really find the courage, or the right way to broach the subject. He knew it might have an adverse effect on his broody friend. Which is why he had blurted out that silly question about Poppy. Damn!
He looked back into Hamlyn’s puzzled gaze and shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno,” he replied to his friend’s question. “Just wondered, that’s all. Nothing important.” He felt an idiot. What a dumb thing to do! And now he wouldn’t have the courage to say what was really on his mind. Another opportunity lost.
“For what it’s worth, and if you really must know, Hobs, my old mate, Poppy and I are just good friends. I mean, we did have a fling once, a couple of months ago, as you of all people should know, and I think she’s still burning a candle for me, but we sort of cooled off. Don’t really know why. Too much effort, I suppose! I know her bloody father thinks we’re going to get married. It means he gets to be related, for what that’s worth. I dunno, I suppose everyone thinks I’m going to make an honest woman out of her!” His expression clouded over for a moment then, as if shaking off an unpleasant memory, he grinned again as he continued, “Women are way too complicated! You know where you are with a bloke, with your best mate, eh Horatio?” He gave his friend a warm hug.
“Suppose so,” replied Horatio. In a funny way he was relieved to hear that Poppy and Prince were not lovers, but why was he so relieved? It wasn’t as if he fancied her or anything…
“Why?” asked Hamlyn, as if reading his best friend’s thoughts, “do you fancy her Horatio? Are you nurturing hopes in that direction? Or…” he gave Horatio a keen gaze and gripped the young man’s arm tightly, “or are you and she already at it, eh?”
“No! Certainly not!” Horatio flung his friend’s hand from his arm, eyes blazing. “Nothing like that at all, Prince. How could you possibly think…?”
“Okay, okay, don’t get your knickers in a twist! Just a joke, mate. You are touchy these days!” Hamlyn paused before he said, “Are you sure that’s not what this is about, Horatio, my old friend? What is it then? Come on, we’re best mates! What’s up? You can tell me.”
Can I? thought Horatio. What will you think of me if I do tell you what I need to? Will we still be ‘best mates’ then?
“Well, is that all? Is that why you brought me out here getting my goolies shrivelled to the size of frozen peas? If so, it’s worked, I’m perished out here. C’mon, let’s go inside and have a drink.”
Horatio suddenly made up his mind.
“Listen, Prince. I have to tell you.”
He began speaking fast and quietly, almost as if his conscious mind did not want to register what he was in fact telling his friend. As he listened, Hamlyn’s gaze grew hard as steel and he gripped his friend’s arm tightly as he listened to what Horatio had to tell him.
It was about noon and Poppy was hanging about, bored to distraction. She had been waiting for Hamlyn for nearly an hour. Typical, she thought. He’s forgotten he asked me over. Gone off somewhere with that wanker, ‘Hip-hip’ Horatio. She checked her mobile once again. No message, no missed call. It really was typical of the man, to forget he had asked her to come over for ‘a chat’ he had said. She wondered if her Dad had spoken to Hamlyn. He was very keen that she and Hamlyn should get married, in fact, it had been expected. All that was wanting was that Hamlyn should pop the question. She guessed that was why he had asked her to visit him. In fact, the way things had turned out, it would seem as if the marriage would be unavoidable. A pain in the fucking arse, but wasn’t that just typical? Poppy tried to ignore the rising panic within her and began to get angry again with Hamlyn. So why wasn’t the bugger here then? He couldn’t expect her to wait all bloody day for him to turn up, could he? No, he bloody couldn’t! Male chauvinist pig! She’d go now. Right this minute and sod him – and her own father’s ambitions on her behalf. She threw the magazine she had been skimming through for the past hour on to one of the Louis-quatorze side-tables and made for the door. As she approached, the door opened and she barged rather inelegantly into the figure of her father, Paul.
Recovering himself, he looked around over his gold-rimmed half-moon spectacles, surprised. “All alone, Poppy?”
“Too fucking right!. He’s left me looking light a right twat,” replied the chic young lady in a manner which made her punctilious father wince.
“I do wish you wouldn’t speak like a fishwife, Poppy dear,” he remonstrated mildly. He himself was a bookish man and liked to think of himself as cultivated. It always upset him to hear how his daughter spoke, despite a very exclusive (and expensive) education. He sighed. Young people today!
“Well, I’m obviously not important enough to him for him to remember he asked me over,” said the willowy girl, “and here was me thinking he was going to go on bended knee and all that. Bloody wanker.” This last was added under her breath, just enough for her father not to hear.
“Eh? What was that, dear?” Paul looked questioningly over at his daughter. Poppy was simply, though expensively dressed; she had learnt all about designer clothes at the expensive schools her father had sent her to. Her well cut hair had originally been blonde, but this month it was jet black, with red highlights. She had taken to wearing very white foundation and very, very scarlet lipstick, something her father found somewhat unsettling. Although he would never, could never even, voice the thought, the word ‘trollop’ came unbidden to the periphery of his consciousness.
Paul was a widower, a man of the ‘old school’, all very correct, all very boringly normal. Safe. He had been a perfect foil for Hamlyn senior in their business ventures together. It had been he who saw whether or not his friend’s hare-brained schemes would actually work or not.
He looked despairingly at the figure of lovliness before him. He, too, had hopes that she and Prince would tie the knot. Poppy needed to settle down.
“Well, hang on for ten more minutes,” her father advised. “I saw Horatio’s car outside, so they must be around somewhere. Be a poppet and wait a bit longer.”
The girl sighed theatrically, shrugged her shoulders, but complied with her father’s wish.
“Bloody hell, Dad! Alright, but only ten more minutes. Then I’m off and the bugger can whistle as far as I’m concerned. I’ve had it with him.” She flounced over to an elegant chintz sofa and flung herself down, whereupon she produced a cigarette and lighting it, exhaled with an air of lazy indifference.
“When he does come, you will let me know what he says, won’t you?” he asked, the worried look a permanent expression on his face. “You will come straight to me and let me know?”
“Yes, Daddy. I will,” Poppy answered impatiently waving the elder man away as she picked up the copy of “The Tatler” she had recently got so bored with.
A few minutes later, as Poppy was again nurturing thoughts of exacting a bloody and painful revenge on him, Hamlyn himself came into the room. Looking up, she saw that he wore an expression of – what was it? Fear? Anger? Both? He didn’t notice her straight away and she heard him muttering under his breath. She gave a small cough, which caused Prince’s head to whip round as if he had been slapped.
“About bloody time! Do you know how fucking long you’ve kept me waiting, Mister High-and-Mighty?”
“Wha–at” Prince started. He looked as though he didn’t remember who she was or why she was here.
“You texted me this morning, idiot! You said come here to meet you at eleven. Hamlyn, it’s quarter past twelve. You rude bastard!”
“Poppy. Sorry. I er…” He faded into silence.
“Daddy says Horatio’s here somewhere. What have you two been up to, eh? Snorting a few lines as usual?”
“No, Poppy. Nothing like that. Horatio wanted to see me, that’s all. He had something to tell me…”
“Something more important than what you were going to tell me, I suppose?” Poppy interrupted, her voice rising and a faint colour showing beneath her makeup. “Couldn’t it have waited, Hamlyn? What did that man have to say that made you forget our appointment – or did you forget it? Maybe you preferred to be with him.”
Poppy had never got on with Horatio. This was because once, many years ago now, she had admitted she had a crush on him at a rather drunken party they were both at and he had more or less said he wasn’t interested. Poppy was not the kind of girl to take rejection lying down and she had borne a grudge against Hamlyn’s best friend ever since. She had always tried to denigrate the man in Hamlyn’s presence, but he and Horatio had remained best friends. Poppy was not amused. Who the fuck did Horatio think he was? Was he too good for her? Him, an estate worker’s son? Low-life scum. Poppy had categorised Horatio and placed him on the same shelf as any working-class nobody and could not understand the hold he had over Hamlyn … unless it was drugs; yes it had to be drugs. He was pushing drugs. He’d been arrested a couple of times for possession and now he’d got Hamlyn hooked. That had to be it. Prince had been acting strangely for a while now. Maybe he was on to the hard stuff. There was nothing wrong with a joint or two, or getting smashed on vintage champagne or tequilas, I mean everyone did that, but what if he was providing Hamlyn with coke, or heroin?
Despite her somewhat rebellious nature, Poppy was not into drugs. Not the hard stuff anyway. She had lost two girlfriends to heroin and had seen what it had done to them and did not want to end up the same way. Poppy wanted to be around to enjoy her father’s fortune when he finally croaked. So she stayed reasonably sober, spending her time and a great deal of her father’s money on clothes, cars which she routinely pranged, skiing holidays and cruises with her trendy friends and obscure but pricey artwork for her two apartments.
“So, what did the little sod have to say, that was so important that you let me hang around here waiting for you, then?” Poppy rose from the sofa, throwing the magazine on to the sofa, but it missed and landed with a dull thud on the persian rug, pages spread like some wounded bird.
Suddenly it seemed as if Prince came to full consciousness. He rounded on Poppy, his eyes blazing, the colour rising to his cheeks. It was only with immense strength of will that he refrained from hitting her. He looked at her white face with the thin lips a cruel scarlet. They were each as angry as the other.
“You bitch!” spat Hamlyn. “You’ve always hated Horatio, haven’t you? Always put him down, tried to put a wedge between him and me. Why, eh? Did he have the guts to tell you he didn’t fancy you, spoilt little rich Daddy’s girl! Oh yes, I know all about the time you tried to rape him at that party. Couldn’t keep your hands off him, could you, you drunken slut! And when he turned you down – after being very polite and trying to spare your feelings, you went beserk didn’t you, Poppy? And you’ve never forgiven him. Well, get over it. It’s in the past. Vengeful Harpy!”
Poppy gazed dumbfounded at the blond young man as he fulminated. She hadn’t realised that he even knew about her and Horatio’s ‘incident’ let alone that he felt so strongly about it, even now, after all these years. What had that prick, Horatio been telling him? Feeding him all sorts of lies, she supposed.
“And you can damn well forget about us ever getting married, Poppy. I don’t want it, and I know even you think it’s ‘convenient’ to be married to me. Well, I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last woman in the world. Why don’t you just bugger off and bully someone else? Better still become a nun – Hah! That would be a fucking joke, Sister Poppy! Ha bloody ha. Just what you fucking deserve, you frigid cold, calculating bitch. Now piss off and leave me alone, okay?”
There was a long silence as Poppy gazed steadily at the trembling man before her.
“You’ve gone stark raving, fucking mad!” said Poppy, too shocked to be angry, her voice hardly above a whisper. Still looking long and hard at Hamlyn she came to a decision and without warning slapped him hard across the face, her bright red nails scratching his cheek as she did so.
She then very calmly left the room closing the door behind her without another word.
Prince stood alone in the middle of the room, tears welling up in his unfocused eyes and coursing down his cheeks. Sinking to his knees, he bowed his head.
On the other side of the door, Poppy also wept, but hers were tears of anger, not sorrow. She’d get her own back on Hamlyn and his fucking sidekick Horatio. Giving herself a moment to pull herself together, she then dabbed her eyes, straightened her dress, then crossed the hall and opened the door to the study, where she knew her father was waiting for her.
Claude and his new girlfriend, soon to be his wife, he hoped, were sitting in the conservatory. The orchids were Gerda’s passion and she enjoyed their heady scent and the moist warmth of the glass-domed extension on the south facing terrace of the house. Gerda was of a frail disposition, not unlike the orchids which she tended so assiduously. Not lovingly, but with the cool confidence of one in her social class; it didn’t do to get too passionate about things – or people. She was a nervy person, with a weak heart, a legacy of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever. She had been in the conservatory when Claude had rushed in to tell her of her husband’s heart attack which had killed him by the time she had reached the ground-floor study from which Hamlyn Senior worked. Claude had been most solicitous, he had arranged the funeral, sorted out the reading of the will, informed all the far-flung relations and generally been a tower of strength for her. The same could not be said of Prince. He more or less disappeared for a whole week whilst everyone else was busy in making arrangements, sorting things out. She had hardly seen him and when she did, he was morose, silent and withdrawn. It was understandable, she supposed, father and son had been very close, so she didn’t blame him, but, all the same, she thought he would have the breeding to know what was expected of him at times like this. This should have been the time for him to step up, fill the breach and support her, his mother. Instead he vanished and Claude was left to cope, which he did admirably.
The Will was duly read. Prince put in an apperance for that, Gerda noted sourly. Everything was as it should have been; the entire estate went to her, Prince would take over the business, Elsingham Holdings, assisted by Paul and he was left a considerable sum in trust which would come into effect upon his marriage. After Gerda’s death, everything went to Hamlyn Junior and his issue. Gerda didn’t really understand why Claude had only been lift a lump sum, admittedly quite considerable, but no seat on the Board, not a mention of Claude taking part in the business. She believed that that was what Claude had wanted and didn’t think any more of it.
Claude did. He thought a lot about it. It consumed him. He was furious with his late brother for so effectively cutting him out of the lucrative business. He recalled several occasions through the years when he had told his elder brother of his plans for the company, if only Hamlyn would take him on board, but his brother always found an excuse not to include Claude in the family concern. Claude seethed inwardly. Why didn’t he get the chance to make a fortune, like Paul, like his own brother? And Hamlyn Junior, ‘Prince’ (he detested the nickname and refused to call the young man by anything other than his given name) was absolutely not interested in joining the firm. He had no head for business, that boy. No backbone. He couldn’t survive in the tough world of finance and deals. Whereas, he, Claude, had been about a bit, made a fortune – and lost several along the way – all sorts of deals, ‘opportunities’ had come his way. He knew the ropes, he had contacts, he could put deals together. Admittedly, much of what Claude did sailed pretty close to the wind as far as the law was concerned, but wasn’t that the idea? Make a fortune by cunning? If the other people allowed themselves to be duped, or hoodwinked, so much the worse for them, it was their fault, not his. As a matter of fact, though, things hadn’t been going Claude’s way in recent years. Not that he had lost his touch exactly, it just seemed that there were others ‘out there’ just as ruthless, if not more so, than he.
So, with his brother dead, he’d get his hands on Elsingham Holdings and life would be a bed of roses. But Hamlyn Senior had put the mockers on that. Damn, damned bastard! He had been sure he would be named in Hamlyn’s Will as successor. Fuck it! He would have to talk Gerda round and that callow youth. Paul would be a problem too, but Claude had ‘dealt with’ enough problems during his chequered career not to have too many qualms on that score.
The couple sat at a small cast-iron table in the conservatory, sipping their pre-lunch drinks, although this was already Claude’s third or fourth; his idea of pre-lunch started after his late breakfast, which was usually only black coffee to dispel the hangover he invariably had every morning.
Gerda was reading the paper and every so often would relate interesting bits of gossip to Claude, who although he couldn’t care a tinker’s cuss, smiled and made appropriate noises. He had his eye on the small TV screen in the corner, where the latest stock-market figures were continually displayed. The sound was down on the small flat-screen so he couldn’t hear the comments made by the ‘pundits’ who pontificated on the financial channels. They knew nothing anyway, thought Claude as he drained his glass and contemplated a refill.
They were interrupted by Paul. He looked flustered and the creases in his brow were even deeper.
“What’s the matter, old man? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“It’s Poppy,” replied the other man, without preamble. “She and Hamlyn have had a fearful row, I think. It looks as if they’re not going to get married after all. She’s awfully upset, poor thing. I don’t know what the ins and outs of it are, she was hardly coherent poor little girl, but I think Hamlyn was awfully cruel to her. More or less called her a tart and told her to get out of his life. I don’t know what’s got into the boy.”
Claude could have told him what he thought had ‘got into the boy’ but chose to say nothing. It was Gerda who spoke next.
“Poor thing, he’s been distraught since his father’s death. I know he should have got over it and done his bit, but I do understand him, really. I’m sure he didn’t really say all those awful things to Poppy, Paul.”
“Well, I can only go by what Poppy said. She was quite shocked and very hurt. I don’t know what has happened between them for it to turn into this. I really don’t understand young people today. When I was their age…”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted Claude. “But you’re not and it’s not really our business now is it? I mean if they had a row, that’s quite normal isn’t it? People do fall out you know. Anyway, I never…” he checked himself. He had been going to say that he had never really cared for Poppy, ever since she, aged about sixteen, left him looking an absolute fool, his dick hanging out of his open flies, while she taunted him that he wasn’t man enough to ‘get it up’ and turned on her heel and left him standing there. She had never complained before, the little tart. When she wanted something, she got it and Claude knew he was only one of many older men who serviced the coldly beautiful girl. Then one day, for no apparent reason, she turned on him in a most cruel way, making his humiliation complete. Little bitch! He would never forget how she laughed in his face. Stupid little prickteaser! He vowed then he would get his own back. Cold-hearted bitch. She had been such an accomodating young girl, really most delightful. Expensive, but all the same…Claude found himslef actually drooling and his loins, even now, were stirring… Claude hastily corrected himself; “I mean I never thought they would have a serious falling-out though.”
“It’s all too much,” said Gerda. “I’m sure it’s just a lover’s tiff, Paul. You’ll see. They’ll have forgotten all about it in a day or two.”
Claude said nothing. He got out of his chair and, going over the bar to replenish his drink. “Have a drink, Paul,” he said in as cheery a voice as he could muster. He detested the man. He was convinced it was he who had persuaded Hamlyn not to include him in the business and he wouldn’t put it past him that Paul had contrived to keep him out of Hamlyn’s Will.
“Er, no, no thanks. I’ve got things to see to…” his voice petered out as he noticed that no-one was listening to him anyway. Gerda was deep in her paper and Claude still had his back to him. He left the room.
If Hamlyn and Poppy don’t get married, thought Claude as he stood at the bar, toying with his tumbler, then that will mean that Paul won’t become a member of the family. I know that Hamlyn doesn’t want anything to do with the firm and Poppy hasn’t a clue in her pretty little head about how to run a business. I need to get Hamlyn out of the way, away from here. Now he’s not marrying Poppy, someone should suggest to him that he takes a holiday, go abroad, get over his father’s death. He turned to Gerda.
“Darling, I’m worried about Prince,” the nickname made him almost retch, “I think he needs to get away for a bit, have a change. He’s been cooped up here, doing nothing ever since Hamlyn’s sad, sudden death. The boy needs a change of scene. Why don’t you suggest he goes away somewhere. He can take his pal Horatio with him. What do you think?”
Gerda looked up, her brow furrowed. “Possibly. He’s been acting very strange lately. It’s not good for him to brood so. I think that’s a good idea and if anyone can help him snap out of his moodiness, then I’m sure Horatio can. I’ll talk to him at lunch. That is, if he bothers to turn up to lunch.”
She went back to her paper and Claude allowed a small smile to cross his lips. He might be able to turn this to his own advantage after all.
Kneeling on the floor of the elegantly furnished drawing-room, Prince was aware of nothing save a blackness in his very soul. It was as if he were falling through an endless void, infinity spreading out from him in all directions and a silence so profound he might have been deaf.
First what Horatio had told him, followed by the scene with Poppy. He knew now he couldn’t possibly marry her, he had been on the brink of making a most terrible mistake, but had stepped back at the very last moment. That fact alone should have made him feel better about it, but it was what Horatio had told him which almost made him physically ill. Until that moment, he had never suspected Claude, but he saw now that what Horatio had said made sense. He trusted Horatio. No, more than that; he loved him like his own brother. He knew Horatio wouldn’t lie to him, it wasn’t in his nature. But how to prove it? He knew what a slippery customer Claude was.
He had never liked his uncle. Never. He remembered, as a boy, how Claude would always try and get friendly with him, but he saw through the older man’s subterfuge. Though he said nice things to Hamlyn, the boy saw that his eyes were always cold, calculating. They reminded him of a snake’s eyes, hooded, intent, unfeeling. That and the fact his uncle was always touching him, ruffling his hair, hugging him, holding his hand. He even used to come up to his room in the evenings when he was visiting and say goodnight to him, sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking the boy’s hair or forehead and always giving him a kiss. He sometimes even stroked the boy’s chest and tummy, under the blankets, his bloodshot eyes staring almost hungrily down at the boy. Hamlyn remembered the man’s breath, reeking of booze and cigarettes, and how he dreaded his uncle’s visits to him. But what could he say? He was only a seven-year-old. Who would believe him if he said he thought his uncle was acting inappropriately? He didn’t even know properly what his uncle was up to, only that he didn’t like it. One such visit ended with him biting down hard on his uncle’s thumb. For a moment, he thought his uncle was going to slap him, he saw his eyes flare with anger, but after a moment all he did was say to him that he was a ‘stupid, stupid boy’ and that he ‘didn’t know what was good for him.’ After that, the visits to his room stopped and his uncle ignored him. Hamlyn was glad. Since then he avoided his uncle as much as possible. Now that slimy low-life was back and this time, quite possibly, was about to become his stepfather. Hamlyn retched where he knelt, but nothing came up.
I wish I were dead! Just not to be here any more to see this! I could easily do it, it would be for the best. But what then? He’ll have won! I’d rather put up with anything than to let the bastard get away with what he’s done! No. I have to carry on. If I don’t then it will all have been for nothing. I’ll find a way. Just you see, you bastard, I’ll trip you up, expose you for what you are!
Prince slowly got to his feet, his head aching. He noticed the discarded ‘Tatler’ on the floor where Poppy had thrown it. A photograph on one of the splayed pages caught his eye; a recent picture of his father, taken at a function about a week before his untimely death. He looked more closely. In the background he could make out Claude’s florid features. What surprised him, however, was the look of absolute hate on his uncle’s face as he looked at Hamlyn senior from behind. The young man felt the hate as an almost physical thing. “So you did do it, you bastard!” Prince muttered under his breath. He ripped the page from the magazine and quickly left the room.
Meanwhile, in the study, Poppy paced up and down. It hadn’t gone too badly with her father, she thought. He had completely bought the ‘upset little vulnerable girl’ act she had put on for him and she had even convinced him that Prince had laid hands on her. He, in a flurry of righteous indignation had gone to find Claude and Gerda. Poppy shuddered at the thought of Claude. She remembered only too well that summer, years ago, when she had the slimy lizard around her little finger. It was all so amusing to see him practically drooling every time he saw her and she loved making the old letch feel hot and bothered. She used to wear deliberately provocative clothes when she knew he would be around, it was such fun to see him trying to act normally, trying to keep his bulgy eyes off her, undressing her hungrily with his stare. She recalled his clammy hands in brief tussles on the back stairs or in the stables when she was about thirteen or so. She, intoxicated by the power she was discovering she had over men like him, would lead him a pretty dance! She didn’t come cheap, either. ‘Uncle’ Claude paid for sex with her and paid handsomely.
But she had tired of him and his pathetic, paunchy figure. He looked so ridiculous naked, she couldn’t help laughing in his face. And when, one day, he couldn’t even muster an erection, she had told him just what she thought of him. She had bigger fish to fry. Claude wasn’t doing well and couldn’t continue keeping her in the manner she was accustomed to, so she told him to bugger off, threatening to expose him to his brother if he became difficult. Give him his due, she mused, he had known when he was beaten and did leave her alone after that, but the memory of him left a bitter taste in her mouth. She would find it very difficult to forget him and it had affected her later relationships. Poppy was incapable of love. What Poppy wanted, Poppy got. She could do anything to get the results she wanted and once that was attained, she moved on.
She was glad that she and Hamlyn had had their row. She was already dreading the idea of marrying – not just him, but anyone. She couldn’t face the idea of being a faithful, monogamous wife, obedient, subservient, in the background. That was where Gerda was such a fool, she thought. She had become a no-one, a cipher in Hamlyn Senior’s shadow. That wouldn’t happen to Poppy. She’d make sure of that. Anyway, she wasn’t even sure that she preferred men to women, there had been that lovely girl at school, what had been her name? Pansy, that was it. She remembered her well. They had had fun together until… Poppy shuddered and lit another cigarette with shaking hands. She wanted to wipe the scene from her memory, that evening when she had found Pansy, dead on the floor, suffocated on her own vomit after an overdose. Poppy collapsed into a chair as she remembered the awful scene and the aftermath. She had really loved Pansy, probably the only person she ever had loved. Pansy had been pretty, Pansy was fun, Pansy had been loyal and did whatever Poppy suggested. If only she hadn’t started on the hard drugs…
Since then, Poppy had steered clear of drugs, for the most part. The odd joint didn’t do her any harm and there was always booze. That was much better than drugs.
She stubbed out her cigarette, as she recalled Prince’s insults, his ravings. Go be a nun! How dare he! What right did he have? Just because he came from that family, he thought he could lord it over the rest of them. He was no better than countless other young men she knew. He was downright weird sometimes.
And he seemed awfully thick with Horatio. The thought idly occurred to her whether or not Hamlyn and Horatio were gay lovers, but she dismissed it. That tosser Horatio probably was, but not Hamlyn. Unlike Claude, Hamlyn never had any problem getting a hardon for Poppy and she had to admit, he had been a most resourceful lover… and plenty of stamina. Despite the hate she felt for him, she couldn’t help the moistness spreading between her legs as she thought of Hamlyn. He didn’t look ridiculous naked at all. He was fit. Involuntarily, Poppy’s hand went to the cleft between her legs and she pleasured herself to thoughts of herself, Hamlyn and Pansy; naked, doing outrageously wonderful, inventive things together…
As usual, she was silent as she reached orgasm. She had never been outwardly demonstrative and especially when she was being screwed. She didn’t want some man to know how intensely she felt as she climaxed. That was for her alone. Men had big enough egos as it was. No need to make them feel even more cocky than they already were. She never ‘faked it til she made it.’ If a man didn’t satisfy her, then she told him. She had a reputation as being a real ball-breaker, but never had a problem filling her bed. It started with Claude. She was so completely filled with disgust and loathing for the man, she refused to give him the added satisfaction of letting him know he could give her an orgasm, so she exercised all her strength of will and never, ever indicated to anyone that she had been pushed over the edge. Everyone, that is, except Pansy. With her, she abandoned herself entirely and it must be said, Pansy was a very good lover indeed. She knew exactly what buttons to push and she was an expert in bringing Poppy repeatedly to the brink of orgasm without pushing her too far. And when the climax came, the thrill was awesome. Pansy gave Poppy multiple orgasms, racking her body for what seemed like an eternity.
In the sepulchral silence of the study, Poppy writhed in her chair, her head thrown back, silently screaming her exultation, hand firmly clamped in the moistness between her legs.
Horatio wandered about the large Elsingham estate, shoulders hunched against the breeze. Hamlyn had been right, it was cold, but he had to be alone, work things out. He went over their recent conversation in his mind:
‘Prince, I think Claude killed your father! Or at least, he didn’t do anything to help, which is the same thing, isn’t it? I saw them, through the window of your father’s study. I was outside, taking the dogs for a walk. It was evening and the lights were on inside. I saw Claude and your father talking, or rather they were shouting, having a real go at each other. Then, suddenly, your father keels over he must have had some sort of heart attack. I saw Claude go over to him and instead of helping him, he just stood there, looking down at your father and laughing in his face. Then your father just went limp. I saw Claude feel for a pulse, still smiling. By not calling for help, and by not administering CPR, Claude as good as murdered your father, Prince. And then, after he was sure your Dad was dead, the son of a bitch calmly goes over to the drinks table and pours himself a drink. He just stands there, looking down at your father’s dead body, drinking and laughing. Bastard! Then he leaves to tell Gerda. The rest you know.’
Prince had listened to the hurried, fevered account, his eyes ablaze, cold as ice, gripping his boyhood friend tightly by the arm. When he spoke, his voice rasped in his throat.
‘Have you mentioned this to anyone else? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? What about the police? Tell me, Horatio; why wait until now?’
‘Who would have believed me, Prince? It was my word against his. I’m just an estate-worker’s son, with a couple of run-ins with the police for doing drugs. Your uncle is a well-connected man, Hamlyn. Christ Almighty, he’s in the same Lodge as the Chief Constable and plays golf with just about every judge in the district. He’d crush me, Prince, if I dared open my mouth. Besides…’
Horatio hadn’t really wanted to say what came next, but out of love for his friend he went on:
‘I know it sounds mad, but I’ve had some dreams about this, for about a month now. I dream that your father comes and haunts me, looking accusingly at me. He tells me to tell you what I saw and also that…’
Here he faltered yet again. He looked at his friend, who stared unseeing back at him. Horatio swallowed. He went on to recount what else he dreamt Hamlyn’s father had said in his recurring dream.
‘He told me that it was alright for me to tell you … to say … to tell you that I love you, Prince. I’m gay. I’ve loved you for years … I … I’m sorry … your father said you would understand…’
The dark-haired young man hung his head, unable to look his friend, the man he had loved since he was a teen, in the eye.
Walking in the large park, Horatio thought I must be mad to tell him all this, all just based on a dream! He’d rightly call him a lunatic and sever their friendship. Yet Horatio had come to a crisis in his own life. Having secretly been in love with Prince since his early teen years and never being able, or rather, never having the courage to tell him, Horatio thought he would explode. But to say all of that based on a fucking dream for Christ’s sake! He turned to go, but Hamlyn held his arm tightly, pulling him back.
‘Horatio, let me take all of this in, okay? Claude, my dad and all the rest of it. Fuck! How can we prove it though?’
He fell silent, still grasping Horatio’s arm. Then he looked at his friend again.
‘Dad was right about so many things, Horatio. Sometimes it felt as if he could see right through me. Why didn’t he see Claude for what he was? Or maybe he did. That’s why he kept him out of the business. That’s why he told me to think long and hard before I came to any decision about Poppy.’
He stared hard at Horatio.
‘He knew, Horatio! Dammit, he knew!’
Then, releasing his friend’s arm, he had turned and walked quickly away, leaving Horatio alone on the high wall, his eyes not taking in the spectacular views all around the old house; they were turned in on his own soul, where all seemed blackness and dark as night.
Lunch was a dismal affair. Gerda, looked down the long table to where Claude sat, morosely, drinking rather more than he ate. To her right sat Paul, fastidiously picking at his terrine, now and again looking anxiously over the rims of his glasses at Poppy, seated next to him. Poppy’s latest fad was vegetarianism, although she was fast getting bored with that. At that moment she was longing for a juicy, bloody steak and was toying with her tofu. She felt Claud’s lecherous glare as he noisily slurped his claret. Prince’s place, opposite, on Gerda’s left, was empty.
“Paul tells us you and Hamlyn have had words,” said Gerda, breaking the stifling silence round the table. Paul fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair, looking harrassed both at Poppy and Gerda. Poppy gave her father a sharp look, then turned to Gerda, with a bored look on her face.
“What a quaint expression, Gerda! Had words! Awfully dated! Yes, Hamlyn and I did have words as a matter of fact, Gerda. We discussed the possibilities of my making a career change, even taking up religion.” The heavy irony was not lost on her father, but Gerda just looked confused.
“I’m sorry, Poppy dear, I don’t understa…”
“Never mind Gerda, dear,” interrupted the younger woman, brusquely, rudely brushing Gerda aside. “Suffice it to say there won’t be wedding-bells,” she went on, finally pushing her plate of food from her and standing up.
“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” began Gerda, but again she was unable to finish.
“It really doesn’t bother me one way or the other,” Poppy replied with an air of disdain, “I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Anyway, I don’t think Prince is the marrying type.”
This last was said out of pure spite, but Poppy was unconcerned. Why shouldn’t she spread a little gossip about? Even though the statement was quite unfounded, she didn’t give two fucks. It was one way of getting back at him.
“I’m off to meet Rosemary in town,” she announced and elegantly left the dining room. Gerda looked at Paul, mouth open.
“What was that all about, Paul? Was she implying that Hamlyn, my son is…?”
It was Claude who now interrupted Gerda. “Come now, Gerda! It’s not such a big deal these days, now is it?” What he didn’t say was Of course, it could mean the line ends with him. He went on, aloud: “It isn’t so important in this day and age, now is it?”
Claude had a very good reason for not refuting Poppy’s insinuations. He realised, that if Hamlyn was gay, then he wouldn’t produce offspring, which meant that the house, lands and the business would go to him, if something unexpected happened to young Hamlyn, that is. He himself suspected that Hamlyn, if not completely gay, was at least bi. The young man did spend a lot of time with Horatio, whom he knew for certain was gay. In fact, unknown by Horatio, Claude and he had mutual ‘friends’ – certain rentboys in town who passed on gossip to Claude. In fact, Claude himself wouldn’t have objected to a bit of rough with Horatio; perhaps one day he might. Beneath the table, he massaged his cock, thinking about the handsome black-haired boy, whom, rumour had it, was prodigously well-hung.
Gerda looked upset. “I’m sure he would have told me, if he was worried about something,” she said, almost pouting.
Worried about something! Typical of the woman! Claude sneered into his glass as he continued to massage his hardening cock through the fabric of his trousers. What age did these people live in, for Christ’s sake!
Paul looked acutely uncomfortable in his straight-backed chair; certain topics were simply not for public discussion. Where was good old-fashioned discretion?
It was at this point that Hamlyn came into the dining room.
All eyes went immediately to the blond young man about whom they had just been been talking.
Claude broke the thick silence. “Oh, so you’ve deigned to join our family, have we? We were beginning to worry about you, Hamlyn. Thought something nasty might have happened.” He could not disguise the falseness in his words. Hamlyn appeared to ignore him, but gritted his teeth and with clenched fists, said nothing. He absent-mindedly kissed his mother on the cheek before taking his place. One of the waitresses came forward with a plate of food, but he waved her away. He filled his glass and after a long draught, spoke.
“Mother, Poppy and I won’t be getting married, after all.” He glanced over at Paul. “Irreconcilable differences.”
The other three glanced at each other, as if what Hamlyn had said confirmed their suspicions.
Gerda looked almost on the verge of tears.
“Oh, Prince, darling! What happened? I’m sure it’s just a silly lover’s tiff! You’ll both make it up in no time. You’ve known each other for absolute years, darling. Years!”
“No, Mother, I don’t think this will be patched up this time,” replied her son. “It’s over. Anyway. It was all of you who expected a wedding. You forgot to ask either Poppy or me what we felt about it all. I can tell you, neither of us was crazy about the idea. It was all a wild idea in your heads. ‘Childhood sweethearts’ and all that crap. Well, neither Poppy nor I have the slightest intention of making up and most certainly not to get married either, so you’ll all have to just stuff that in your respective pipes and smoke it.”
A slow, sardonic clapping from Claude broke the shocked silence.
“Good for you, Hamlyn, my boy. Show ‘em what your made of. There’s spunk in you, young man!” He emphasized the word spunk but it seemed to be lost on all those present except uncle and nephew.
Hamlyn, despite his inner turmoil, gazed cooly at his uncle.
“Oh yes, Claude,” he replied evenly, “I’m spunky enough.”
Claude, despite his anger, felt himself hardening. He wanted to fuck that insolent young puppy so hard he wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week…
He changed the subject. “Hamlyn, your mother and I think you need to get away for a while. Have a change of scene. You’ve been through a lot and…”
“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you Mother?” said the young man abruptly, turning to face her. “What with a death, a funeral and now an imminent engagement…it’s all a bit too much in so short a space of time, isn’t it Mother? Don’t you need a holiday? Shouldn’t you be going away somewhere?” He was shouting now and Gerda shrank from him beneath his onslaught. “Perhaps you need some time to … to forget!”
“How dare you, you insolent whelp!” Claude rose from his chair.
“You shut the fuck up, Claude! You slimy bastard! Worming your way in here. No wonder Dad thought you were worthless. You aren’t fit to lick his boots! And now you presume to come in here, take over… Mother, can’t you see what this guy is? Can’t you understand he just wants the business?” He rounded back on Claude, “You couldn’t even run a fucking raffle! You’re a pathetic, alcoholic, perverted creep! Everything you touch turns to ashes! Dad knew that. Dad saw what a fucking liability you are, Claude! Mother! How can you be so fucking blind?”
Claude came round the table surprisingly quickly, lunging at Hamlyn, who, taken by surprise, was pushed to the ground. Claude felt like kicking the young man to death and would have done so only just holding himself back, remembering that he and Hamlyn weren’t alone. Instead, he took a step back and looked with contempt at the prone figure. He’d find another opportunity to teach the young cunt a lesson!
“How dare you, Hamlyn! But then, it’s all one can expect, considering with whom you choose to be friends. Let me tell you something, Hamlyn. This isn’t a suggestion, this is an order: get away from here. Take time out. Leave this house. Consider your options, young man. Now bugger off!”
Hamlyn slowly rose but before he could do anything or speak, Gerda spoke next: “Claude is right, Hamlyn. What you said was totally out of line and uncalled for. You need to go away and reflect on what you said and when you come back, I expect you to give Claude a full, unreserved apology. Now go!”
Hamlyn was speechless. He held his mother’s gaze for a few moments before sadly shaking his head in disbelief and leaving the room.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” muttered Paul, not knowing where to look and wishing he was somewhere quite else.
Poppy was doing at least 90 as she negotiated the turn at the bottom of the hill. The small, low-walled stone bridge, which appeared unexpectedly as one came out of the turn, had existed since Roman times and was a known black spot for motorists who were unfamiliar with the area. If you didn’t know it was there, you could easily end up smashing into the wall, or into another car approaching as the road narrowed to just the width of one car at that point. Poppy had scraped several smart sports cars on the ancient stones, but always miraculously managed to avoid a serious accident. So it was this time. Somehow or other Poppy had always been lucky; avoiding the wall, or the approaching car was always just a bit further away, or even some Divine intervention had kept Poppy safe at the little bridge on the outskirts of the local market town.
Hardly taking her foot off the accelerator, Poppy sped into the main square, screeching to a halt outside the Prince of Denmark, the town’s largest and oldest pub. There had been an inn on that site since Medieval times and the building’s cellars dated back to the twelfth century, although the relatively ‘modern’ façade was half-timbered Elizabethan.
Poppy manouevered herself elegantly out of the little yellow Porsche, which was parked on two matching yellow lines under a sign stating the penalties for parking there. As ever, Poppy didn’t for once imagine rules like that applied to her. Slamming the door, she marched purposefully into the pub, brushing past a traffic warden whom she didn’t even notice.
She also failed to notice Horatio, as he emerged from the bookshop a few yards further along the road. With Horatio was another young man, Lawrence, known to all and sundry as Larry. He was Poppy’s elder brother. Larry, Hamlyn and Horatio had known each other since they were boys, but Larry had been a boarder at one of the better public schools, whilst unusually, Hamlyn had been educated at the local grammar school, so that he ‘wouldn’t lose the common touch’, as his father often said. Therefore Larry only got to spend time with Hamlyn and Horatio in the school holidays. At present, he was up at University studying for his degree and it was expected that in the fullness of time he would become a partner in his father’s solicitor’s offices. Not only that, it seemed he would be going into politics – he was a member of the local Young Conservatives and had already made a modest name for himself as ‘safe’. Even at the tender age of twenty, he already behaved and almost looked like a man twice that age. Heavy horn-rim spectacles, prematurely balding, coupled with an ultra-conservative taste in attire, (today, as most days, he was dressed in a leather-patched tweed jacket, open-necked check shirt, with a paisley cravat at his throat, cavalry twills and brown Oxford brogues), looking like a caricature of what he actually was; a well-to-do brainy-but-boring nerd. This didn’t bother him in the slightest, nor Horatio, who always tried to see the best in people. Now he and Larry were deep in conversation.
“Maybe he needs to get away for a while,” Larry was saying. “I mean, it was a dreadful shock, about his old man and all that, and I know he and his uncle don’t see eye to eye.”
“You can say that again,” replied Horatio.
“My pater says that Claude is a bit of a loose cannon,” Larry went on. “Not a man you can trust, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” said Horatio, with heavy emphasis, causing Larry to look at him, eyebrow cocked.
“Oh really? What’s the old cove been up to now?”
Horatio was not prepared to tell anyone else about how he saw Claude do nothing as Hamlyn Senior lay dying. He just shrugged and said, “well, look at all those fortunes he’s lost,” he said vaguely.
Larry replied, “He’s a queer one, that’s for sure. I frankly don’t see what Gerda sees in him.”
“That’s what’s making Prince so odd,” said Horatio. “He can’t stand Claude. You know how he hero-worshipped his father? Well, he thinks Claude is just out for the family fortune and the business, and that’s what everyone else thinks, but Gerda won’t hear of it!”
“Yes, I know. Pater called me the other day. He’s very worried, Horatio. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to keep Claude out of the business if Gerda does marry him. And if he does, then pater will resign and if you want my opinion, the business will collapse within months – even weeks!”
“And there’s another thing,” said Horatio, “I think Prince and Poppy have split up – this time I think it’s for real.”
Larry sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t say I’m surprised,” he said. “I know what a handful my little sister is, how headstrong she can be. She thinks I don’t know what she’s been getting up to, but I do. And then of course I don’t think Hamlyn ever wanted to marry her.” He paused before going on. “Actually, between you and me Horatio, I think Hamlyn ‘bats for the other side’, if you get my drift.”
Horatio stopped in his tracks, mouth agape as he stared at his friend.
“You mean, Hamlyn is … is…”
“Homosexual? Yes, I do, Horatio. Come on, old man! Just because I’m studying law, prematurely ageing, and a stick-in-the-mud county Conservative doesn’t mean I don’t know the facts of life! Remember, I was at boarding school! One saw a lot there, you know and anyway, as they say, ‘it takes on to know one!’ I think you already guessed that, though. Didn’t you?”
Horatio was lost for words.
“Oh come on, Horatio! It’s not as if I’ve confessed to murder or something! And anyway, if my instincts are right, then perhaps you…?”
He left the question hanging in the air.
After a few seconds of staring incredulously at his friend, Horatio burst out laughing. “My God, Larry! You are a deep one! I never saw that coming! Bloody hell!”
Larry stood beside his friend, blushing sheepishly and was taken quite by surprise when Horatio gave him a great bearhug, right there in the middle of the market square.
“You got it bang on, Larry, old man! Ten out of ten! Yes, I’m gay too and my dearest wish is that Hamlyn is. I’ve loved him since we were boys, Larry.”
Horatio noticed an expression of pain cross Larry’s features.
“Oh my God, Larry! You love him too!”
The other man shook his head. “No, Horatio, I don’t, nor ever did. It was…someone else that I loved. He… he doesn’t love me. He’s in love with…”
He gave Horatio a sad smile. Horatio saw the truth in a blinding flash.
“Oh Larry! I’m so so sorry…”
“Nothing to apologise for,” replied Larry, “I’ve known for yonks about you and your feelings for Hamlyn, Horatio. And if I’m not mistaken, I think you’ll find he’s fond of you too.”
“But what about you, Larry?”
“Don’t worry about me, Horatio, I’ll be fine. Anyway, if I’m going into politics, then the one thing I won’t need is a boyfriend; that would not go down well with the blue-rinse brigade from the local Conservative Womens’ Association! No, I’ll get on with my life, quietly amongst my books and pianoforte, maybe once in a while go into the big city for wild nights of orgiastic passion with horny little rentboys then come back to the depths of the country and be the life and soul of the vicar’s wife’s soirees.
“That sounds awful, Larry!”
“No, Horatio, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m not much of a demonstrative person anyway. I wouldn’t be good at having a relationship. No, I’ll be fine. Just promise me you’ll come and visit me once in a while.” Horatio hugged his friend again, who blinked behind his thick lenses.
“Of course, Larry! I’m so sorry…” but his friend brushed the apology aside.
“Don’t be, Horatio. There’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s better this way, believe me. Let’s not talk about it ever again. Promise?”
Horatio nodded his head. “If you say so, Lar.”
“I do,” replied the other man, emphatically. “Now, Horatio, if I were you, I’d go and find Hamlyn. I’ve got some things to attend to. I’ll be up at the house for dinner. See you then?”
“Okay, Lar. And…”
“Go!” Larry almost shooed the black-haired young man on his way.
It all happened so fast. The van-driver never had time to react. As he turned the corner all he saw was a flash of yellow and heard the roar of a powerful engine at full throttle. The rest was a blank.
Larry, however, saw it all as clear as day. He was about a hundred yards behind the speeding Porsche and saw the sports car smash headlong into the side of the white van. The small car seemed to concertina into itself. Pulling up, he was first on the scene. It only took one quick glance at the mangled wreckage of the Porsche; no-one was going to get out of there alive.
And that no-one, he saw, was Poppy.
The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death due to reckless driving whilst under the influence of alcohol. The post-mortem also revealed that at the time of her death, Poppy had been about six weeks pregnant, although the fact was kept quiet, at Larry’s insistence. Not even Paul was told. Larry thought he could guess who the father was, but as no-one would ever find out, why bother making it public, just for the maiden aunts to get their teeth into.
The driver of the van was cleared of all blame; he never had time to react, much less try and avoid the collision.
The funeral took place ten days after the accident.
Outwardly, Paul seemed to be coping, his demeanor quietly efficient, his appearance stoic, but inside, he was stricken. Although he seemed to be a distant person, always in control of his feelings, he had loved his only daughter very dearly, in his own way. Never a demonstrative man, he now blamed himself for never telling his daughter what she meant to him. When his wife had died after a short but vicious illness, from cancer some twelve years ago, Paul had become even more inward-looking. Never one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, many thought him a cold fish, but inside, Paul was flesh and blood. Alone, he wept bitterly for his daughter, accusing himself with countless if-only’s.
Larry, too, was deeply saddened by Poppy’s passing. However, he was more pragmatic about it. If truth be told, it had always been a question of when not if some accident would befall Poppy. Either a car crash, as was the case, or any number of other ways – in his estimation Poppy had always been a disaster waiting to happen. She lived life recklessly, unlike himself. She took risks, physically and emotionally, whereas he preferred to maintain the status quo, she would always be the one who went too far, be it in a practical joke on friends, or the hare-brained holidays she went on, her infamous bouts of drinking, as well as her driving. When he saw the little yellow Porsche smash into the side of the van, his immediate, involuntary thought was, Poppy’s done it again!
Gerda’s reaction was slightly more complex. Of course, she regretted the girl’s demise, but she could not feel deep grief. Silly little bitch! The spat they had had at lunch of the day of Poppy’s death still rankled. Lile Larry, she saw how Poppy sailed through her life as if she were immortal, as if nothing could ever harm her. But what could one do? What happened, happened. The foolish girl was dead, at least there would be no awkward scenes in the future over Hamlyn’s and her split. That was one good thing at least. The family need never know that the wedding wouldn’t have gone ahead. Face would be saved. Now all the maiden aunts could commiserate over their amontillado after the funeral and be none the wiser.
Claude simply didn’t care. The little pricktease was dead, so what? At least he wouldn’t have her snide comments every time they met after he and Gerda were married and he was her father’s boss. Sacking Paul would be just that little bit easier, that was all. And if he wouldn’t go, then there were other ways to make the problem go away.
Horatio was genuinely sorry about Poppy’s death. Although he had never cared for her selfish and egotistical view of life, he couldn’t say he hated her, hardly even disliked her. He had genuinely forgotten that time all those years ago when she nearly, very nearly got him to have sex with her. She would never know how close he really was. But he had stood firm, reasoning with himself that he was gay, not physically attracted to women in general, not Poppy in particular. Even then, he knew it would be damn nigh impossible to explain it to her, so she had gone away hurt and embarrassed, her ego bruised. Since then, there had been an uneasy truce between them. Horatio had no fight with her, no scores to settle. He knew she disliked him, but, to give her credit, she never actively sought to hurt him in any way. She mocked him and put him down, but mostly she treated him with indifference; to her he was invisible. Horatio liked that just fine.
For Hamlyn, Poppy’s sudden death was yet another blow to his fragile sensibilities. It seemed to him that his troubles seemed to be coming thick and fast, not singly but in battalions, a phrase he had read somewhere.
If he had been distracted since his father’s death, he was even more so now. He more or less exiled himself in his own home, locked away up in his suite of rooms in the otherwise unused west wing of the house, his mobile phone switched off, skipping meals, preferring to sneak down to the kitchen at night after everyone else had gone to bed. He didn’t answer when anyone knocked on his door, not even Horatio.
In his days of solitude, Hamlyn went over his life to date, going over and over the minutiae of his existence. Had he ever known real happiness? He could answer that question in the affirmative, at least in his early years, when his father seemed to have all the time in the world for him. One thing he was sure about, and that was that he and his father had a special bond. His father had been there for him ever since he could remember. It was Daddy whom he remembered taking him piggyback riding before the boy could walk. His father taught him to cycle, swim, shoot, ride, play chess. His father was there all the time. Picking him up when he fell, dusting him down and convincing him that it was just a minor scratch. He remembered the outings on the estuary, sailing the little dinghy, imagining they were Robinson Crusoe or Blackbeard. His first puppy, Honey, was a present from his father on his sixth birthday, a playful Golden Retriever, all paws and slobbery muzzle, excitedly jumping all over Hamlyn. His father was there when they buried Honey eight years later, comforting the boy after his first loss, his first acquaintance with mortality. Shortly thereafter Daddy explained the birds and the bees to his son, who found the whole thing a little ridiculous and faintly distasteful. He recalled he was only too glad when the little talk was over and he could get back to his train-set.
His mother seemed more fleeting, more shadowy, a little distant. He recalled how elegant she always was, how she looked so cool and sophisticated at the many parties his parents seemed to hold. And yet, it was as if she was a stranger to him. She never took the initiative. He remembered long boring days in the summer holidays while his father was away on business trips, how he would hardly see his mother from breakfast to dinner. There never seemed anything spontaneous about his mother, unlike his dad. She would never just hug him, out of the blue, or suggest they go on some sort of expedition, or play a game of something. Mother was always preoccupied, somehow not there.
Then there was Poppy. They were almost like brother and sister. At least at the beginning. She lived in the Dower house with her parents and Larry. Hamlyn knew Paul and his father were close business associates and had known each other a long time; his father talked about when he and Paul had been at school together. Larry was away at school for much of the time, so he only met him during the holidays. Poppy seemed to change schools quite frequently and therefore spent quite a bit of time at home, with a succession of tutors and governesses. Even as a little girl, she was wild; full of schemes and daring games. He found her a little frightening at times, her intensity, her impulsive, reckless behaviour.
Hamlyn’s thoughts turned to Horatio, his oldest friend. Horatio’s father was a mixture of gamekeeper, gardener and odd-job man around the big house and grounds. The two boys became firm friends from the very outset. Hamlyn now wondered whether his father had sent him to the local grammar school because that was where Horatio went. Looking back, he now found it a little odd that he hadn’t followed in his father’s footsteps; public school then Oxford, the same as Larry had. All he knew then, was that he had a best friend, lived at home with his father and that he was content.
Then sex reared its head.
Shortly after his father’s fairly lame ‘birds and the bees’ talk, when Hamlyn was about thirteen or so, he of course did what every boy has always done – and always will; Hamlyn discovered the joys of masturbation. His view of the world, his parents, friends – in particular Poppy and Horatio, changed dramatically. Like every boy, before or since, Hamlyn became almost obsessed by his penis, managing to masturbate to orgasm three or four times a day, sometimes more often. Yet it was a strange fact that except for only one occasion, he and Horatio never talked about what was happening to their bodies, their hormones rushing madly about, an erection an almost continual companion. Occasionally, Hamlyn would catch his friend giving him an odd look, or else after P.E. he sometimes looked for a split second too long at another boy’s genitals. But didn’t all young males do that? Wasn’t it a normal reaction, to compare oneself with one’s peers?
‘Gay’ was not part of Hamlyn’s vocabulary.
In Poppy’s case, as she hit adolescence, she became even more wild, if that were possible. It was she who ruthlessly pursued the ‘I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours’ ritual. Hamlyn had a brief glimpse of a hairy mound between Poppy’s legs as she lifted her skirts in the stables one wet Saturday afternoon. Poppy’s breasts were always petite, the pale mounds reminded the juvenile Hamlyn of small cakes covered in white icing with a cherry stuck on top. He remembered her order to him to stroke her breasts; it was more than his life was worth to disobey Poppy. He recalled their softness, the nipples becoming rougher as they became erect under his touch. Meanwhile, she had put her hand down his trousers and as he nervously fondled her petite breasts, she stroked his throbbing member to a sticky, messy climax in his underwear. With a cruel laugh, Poppy wiped her semen-covered hand on his face, telling him to have more control of himself in the future. He never forgot the incident.
Much later, when they became lovers, Poppy had the habit of covering his face with her vaginal juices and after intercourse, would make him lick her pussy clean, calling him a ‘dirty little boy’ as he did so.
Hamlyn was ambiguous about his sex-life with Poppy. It gave him much needed relief, but at the same time, paradoxically, it left him deeply unsatisfied. He tried all sorts of adventurous techniques with Poppy, always looking for something new, something which gave him more pleasure than just an orgasm. He never knew if what he and Poppy did together pleased her sexually or not; she never said. She would lie in total silence, the only sign of any arousal being the deep flush which spread upwards from her breasts to her face. Apart from that, she gave no sign that he satisfied her.
Alone in his suite of rooms, either pacing up and down, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, or else sitting motionless for hours on end, Hamlyn thought on.
He recalled the only time sex had come into his and Horatio’s friendship.
It was a fortnight after his brief, messy encounter with Poppy in the barn on that wet Saturday afternoon. He and Horatio were out riding together. It was a baking hot day and the boys had ventured out of the large estate and up onto the moors. They had been riding for about two hours when Horatio said,
“I’m hot and tired and need something to eat! Why don’t we stop up at the tarn?” Hamlyn had readily agreed and the boys headed for the small lake. Hengil’s Tarn was a favourite spot of theirs when they were younger, going there with Hamlyn Senior for picnics and a quick dip in the icy cold waters. It lay in a cleft between the two hills known locally as Hengist and Horsa and was fed by a spring which bubbled out of the side of one of the hills and maintained its depth by waters running from the tarn southwards between the hills.
Lying as it did in the shadow of the hills for much of the day, save at high noon, this meant the waters were very cold and it was not unusual for the lake to be frozen over well into May. Now, however, in late July, it lay there, placidly reflecting the cloudless skies above. On it’s southern shore was a shepherd’s hut, a small roughly made drystone shell with a turf roof, affording shelter in the late autumn and early spring for the shepherds. No-one really knew how deep the waters of the tarn were and local legend told of the ghost of a Viking chieftain, Hengil, who, in his lust for gold, lured unwary travellers to their deaths in the icy waters.
The boys’ horses made their way delicately down the gently inclining slopes to the shore of the tarn. Sheltered from any breeze, with the noonday sun beating down, it was pleasantly warm. The boys hitched their horses to one of the bothy’s walls and unpacked their saddlebags. Seated with their backs against the small hut’s sun-warmed stones, they tucked into their sandwiches and sodas. Apart from the gentle sounds of the horses munching at the grass on the roof of the bothy, the silence was absolute. Not a bird sang, the stillness was profound.
Hamlyn and Horatio sat in silence next to each other. They did not feel the need for talking, they knew each other so well that they could be in each other’s company for long periods of time without more than half a dozen words being spoken. They felt comfortable in each other’s presence, or rather Horatio had felt comfortable with Hamlyn until adolescence. As he became sexually aware, his feelings towards Hamlyn changed subtly. He began to look at his friend in a new light, without fully understanding himself how his attitude to his friend had altered. As the two teen boys sat together against the old stones, basking in the sunshine and deep silence, Horatio began, for the first time, to feel slightly uncomfortable in the company of his best friend. He stole a glance at Hamlyn, who, having finished eating, leaned back against the wall and sighing contentedly, allowed his eyes to close, feeling the sun’s warm rays on his face. Horatio, seeing his friend apparently asleep, allowed his eyes to travel over Hamlyn’s prone body. He stopped when he got to his best friend’s crotch. He and Hamlyn had often seen each other naked; they had been swimming together on innumerable occasions, were in the same P.E. class at school and even on the same football team, so had had occasion to see each other’s naked body countless times. Until recently, Horatio hadn’t given this a second thought, but in the past couple of months or so, he now and again found himself wondering what it would be like to stroke his friend’s penis. Recently, his jerk-off sessions had centred around visions of him and Hamlyn naked together. As he gazed at his sleeping friend, he felt himself harden.
“Penny for them?” Hamlyn’s soft voice startled Horatio out of his reverie. He felt himself blush and stammered, “er … nothing really.”
“Nice here, isn’t it?” said Hamlyn, who appeared not to notice his friend’s confusion.
“Er … yeah.”
“It’s bloody hot!” In one impetuous move, Hamlyn removed his tee-shirt, exposing his well-formed, pale chest. He was filling out nicely, Horatio thought. Hamlyn had the beginnings of a six-pack and a trail of very faint hairs led from his ‘innie’ navel down into the waistband of his trousers. Horatio’s penis got even harder as he drank in the sight of his friend’s torso. He felt, rather than saw Hamlyn’s gaze on him. Looking up, he saw a faint grin on Hamlyn’s face. “Are you perving me up, Hobs?” The use of the familiar nickname, coupled with the grin, took the sting out of the question. Horatio giggled. “Maybe I is and maybe I isn’t, Prince!”
“Well go on, then!” Horatio must have looked confused, so Hamlyn elaborated.
“Get yer shirt off, spaz!” Hamlyn tickled his friend, who squealed. He felt relieved that his friend didn’t know what he had been thinking moments ago. He didn’t know how Hamlyn would have reacted. It was more impoortant for Horatio to keep Hamlyn as a friend; he suddenly couldn’t bear to lose him. All at once and unusually quite shy, he too took off his top.
“Mmm! Feels better eh?” asked Hamlyn.
Horatio had to agree. But his cock was still very, very hard. He hoped Hamlyn wouldn’t notice.
“You dirty old sod! You’ve got a stiffie!” Hamlyn had noticed. Horatio blushed deeply.
“It’s the sun,” he said, saying the first thing that came into his head.
There was a long silence. Horatio didn’t know where to look.
“I’m getting one now, you old bugger!” Involuntarily, Horatio glanced down at Hamlyn’s crotch. Sure enough, there was a definite lump apparent. The silence became drawn out.
“Shall we, … er, you know …?” said Hamlyn, himself blushing.
Horatio felt that this was not the moment to tease his friend. Simultaneously, both boys reached for the buttons on their trousers.
“I will if you will,” said Horatio in a husky voice.
The boys removed their trousers and pulled down their underwear. Hamlyn’s penis, freed from the confines of his tight underwear sprang out, slapping against his flat stomach.
A very respectable six inches or so, fairly thick in circumference, the glans protruding from the generous foreskin. Hamlyn’s balls hung low and he had only a small thatch of very blond hairs at the base of his penis.
Horatio licked his dry lips, as he stared down at Hamlyn’s nakedness, his own cock fully erect, stood proud of his body, curving upwards for about five inches or so. Thinner than Hamlyn’s, it produced large amounts of precum which ran down the shaft, making it glisten in the sunlight. His dark pubic hair a triangle against his pale skin.
Sitting side by side, the boys began to stroke their respective penises. Horatio, his fantasies coming true, seeing his best friend masturbating beside him, was very close to orgasm. He wanted the moment to last, so he slowed his strokes down. Hamlyn, leaning back against the wall, eyes closed, was into his self-pleasure. A few gentle moans escaped his lips. Unable to control himself, Horatio reached over and gently pushing his friend’s hand away, took Hamlyn’s cock and began to stroke. After a momentary look of surprise at his friend, Hamlyn closed his eyes again and allowed Horatio to bring him to orgasm. As Hamlyn shuddered and his orgasm hit, Horatio, too reached his climax, shooting his semen in a high arc whence it landed on his neck and chest.
“Awesome!” said Hamlyn after he had caught his breath.
“Amazing!” agreed Horatio. Then, in silence, both boys cleaned themselves up, got dressed again and shortly after made their way back home.
They never mentioned the incident and their friendship continued as before.
For many years afterwards, Horatio was content.
Until the other day, when he told Hamlyn of his dream.
Elsingham House was wreathed in mist early that April morning. Poppy’s funeral nearly a year ago had been a sombre affair, but apart from her brother and father, no-one really wept. The maiden aunts duly expressed their condolences, drank their dry sherry and left, only to spend the next few weeks ringing each other up to say the young tart had it coming and how fortunate it was for young Hamlyn that he had been saved from a disastrous marriage.
Prince did what his mother had more or less commanded him to do and, before Poppy’s funeral, which he didn’t attend, he had gone away, forbidding Horatio to go with him, which desperately saddened Horatio and made Gerda and Claude think Hamlyn as even more headstrong and foolish than was good for him.
Claude fired Paul and even convinced Gerda to turn him out of the Dower House.
Claude now controlled Elsingham Holdings. But even he couldn’t fire the Board. However, with Paul out of the way, Claude was able to bully the members of the Board, most of whom he had made sure were indebted to him in one way or another. Claude had long ago made it his business to know if any of the respectable Board members had any dirty little secrets they didn’t want anyone to know about. Most of them had.
Claude and Gerda fixed the date for their wedding. With an astounding and cynical lack of sensitivity, the wedding would fall on the anniversary of Hamlyn Senior’s death.
Horatio still lived in one of the estate cottages, although his father had retired. Obviously Claude had either forgotten about him or couldn’t be bothered to evict them. Horatio sometimes tried to contact Hamlyn, but his calls were left unanswered as were his text messages. Hamlyn had disappeared off the face of the earth … that is, until a fortnight or so before his mother’s wedding.
One April day, Prince suddenly appeared at Elsingham. He looked awful. It was almost as if he had been living rough for the months he had been away. His hair was lank and greasy, grown down over his shoulders. He had a full beard and his pale blue eyes stared wildly. He had lost a lot of weight, almost to the point of appearing on the point of starvation.
Gerda was in the conservatory, amongst her beloved orchids. Hearing a noise behind her, she turned to see who had come in and, not recognizing her own son at first, asked him who he was, what he wanted and how he had got in. Hamlyn said nothing, just angrily stared mutely at his mother. When, finally, she did recognize him, Gerda let out a little scream, letting fall a pot containing a fragile white orchid to smash on the tiled floor of the humid conservatory.
“Hamlyn!” Her first instinct was to back away from the scruffy and dirty individual before her. Hamlyn’s clothes were very shabby and completely filthy. Gerda couldn’t see it, but concealed in the pocket of the greatcoat he was wearing, Hamlyn held a ten-inch knife.
“Yes, Mother. I’m back.”
She heard the contempt in his voice, saw the slight sneer when he said the word ‘Mother’.
Although stunned by his sudden appearance, Gerda’s breeding came to the fore. Outwardly calm, despite the dropped orchid, which she ignored, she steadily held Hamlyn’s gaze.
“So you’ve decided to come back to us, then.”
“Paul and Lawrence will never forgive you for missing Poppy’s funeral, you know. You heartless boy!”
Hamlyn could hardly believe his ears.
“Heartless, me?” He took a step forward. Despite her fear, Gerda held her ground, head held high.
“You’ve got a nerve! I suppose sleeping with your dead husband’s brother before he was even cold in his grave isn’t heartless, eh? Purely expedient?” This time it was Gerda who moved, taking a step forward and with all the strength she could muster, slapped Hamlyn across the face, her eyes glittering in anger.
“You insolent little nobody! How dare you say such things!”
“Because anyone can see they’re true! You fucking whore! Did you know Claude was with my father when he collapsed and did nothing to help him? He just stood over my father as he lay dying! Then the fuck just sat there and had a drink with my dad dead on the floor. It was an amazing stroke of luck for him, my father collapsing like that.”
Hamlyn gave a bitter laugh as he realised his poor choice of words. He wiped the spittle from the corners of his mouth before continuing:
“He could then worm his way into your favour, which didn’t seem very hard to do, I might add, and from there get into the business, which is what he wanted all along. He doesn’t give a fuck about you, Gerda! He just wants your money and dad’s business.” He paused, giving his mother a speculative and almost lewd look.
“How many times have you and he ‘made love,’ Gerda eh? How often have you two rutted eh?” Her silence was all the answer he needed.
“Exactly! Not too often is it? Well let me tell you, that scumbag used to screw Poppy when she was still a minor – you didn’t know that did you, eh? He even tried it on with me, when I was a boy, hands everywhere, fucking creep! He’s a total slimeball; he’ll do anything, whatever it takes, to get what he wants, including marrying you!”
Gerda’s face had drained as she listened to Hamlyn’s tirade. Leaning against a table, her knuckles white as she gripped it to stay on her feet, she could not, would not believe what Hamlyn, in his obvious madness, was saying to her. Hamlyn hadn’t heard the soft tread behind him, but when Gerda’s eyes flickered past him, he was aware that someone was close behind him. Whipping round, at the same time as drawing his knife from his coat pocket, he lunged at the figure, stabbing it hard with unerring but accidentally tragic accuracy, right through the heart. The figure crumpled and fell, instantly dead.
It was Paul. He had been summoned to meet Gerda with the papers he had signed, relinquishing his shares in Elsingham Holdings as well as the signed agreement concerning his severance pay.
“Damned idiot, stupid fucking fool! Why did it have to be you?” Hamlyn muttered, as he saw who it was lying at his feet. “Fuck, Paul, you should have been Claude.”
He turned back to his mother who was frozen in fear.
“Don’t you fucking worry, Mother. I’ll be back for that cunt Claude, when you both least expect it.” He paused.
“Sorry Paul,” he whispered. “My fight wasn’t with you, you know that.”
Then, turning, he swiftly left the conservatory, where Gerda, finally, collapsed, shrieking for someone, anyone to come to her aid.
The spreading pool of Paul’s blood engulfed the delicate fallen orchid, Gerda’s own creation, the hybrid Danoise, staining it a deep scarlet.
Hamlyn disappeared again. The police searched a wide area, set up roadblocks, closed ports and airports, but found no trace of the young man. The detective in charge, DCI Gildenstone, interviewed everyone in the hopes of finding out why Hamlyn had killed Paul. Gerda, under strict orders from her fiancé as well as a regular supply of valium, prescribed at Claude’s insistence, hadn’t told them that the intended victim was Claude.
Horatio was stunned. Why would Hamlyn do such a thing? He and Paul had always been close, he was almost family. He had been Hamlyn’s godfather, it just didn’t make any sense.
In her few lucid periods, Gerda firmly belived that her son, if not quite mad, had at least been under the influence of drugs. She would never forget those coldly staring, accusing eyes, his dishevelled appearance, his almost obsessive rantings.
Claude, though rattled, tried to appear as if he was in control. He was not. He drank more, became erratic in his behaviour and in general, began to lose it. The police had promised they would keep an eye on the house, but due to manpower shortages, would be unable to give them all twenty-four hour protection. Claude went ballistic. He pestered his friends in high places, but he got the same answer from everyone; there weren’t sufficient resources.
Claude decided to hire some protection of his own. Through some of his shady contacts he hired a couple of ‘security personnel’ basically a couple of ex-cons, each armed with a .22 and attitude. Claude brought in a pack of rottweilers to wander freely about the grounds and installed CCTV everywhere. The two of them were now virtually prisoners in their own, or rather Gerda’s, house.
“Let him try and get within a hundred yards of us,” Claude muttered, “and the bastard will be dogfood.” Now he had his ‘precautions’ in hand, Claude allowed himself to relax a little. He’d weather this one out, marry that stupid cow Gerda and then he’d be in clover. He actually thanked Hamlyn for doing his own dirty work for him and getting rid of Paul, who would always have been a liability, would always be asking difficult questions. It had been a question of not if but when, Claude would have had to have Paul ‘removed.’
Claude saw no threat in Horatio, so he decided not to do anything about him. In fact, he thought Horatio might be useful in leading him to Hamlyn, but when he last asked him, Horatio had replied that he hadn’t heard anything at all from Hamlyn. Claude believed him. But he also believed that sooner or later, Hamlyn would get in touch with Horatio. They had been such good friends for such a long time, it had to count for something, didn’t it? Claude decided to have Horatio discreetly observed, just in case.
Claude and Gerda had a wedding to prepare. It was a pain in the arse, but it was necessary. They had to do everything by the book, dot the i’s and cross the t’s if the family was going to accept the marriage. Claude had to be nice to all those nosey maiden aunts and distant cousins. They had to sort out a decent pre-nuptial agreement, make sure there were no loopholes left by Paul. Claude hired his own team of lawyers to go over all the papers concerning the business, inheritance, everything and anything had to be double checked. Claude couldn’t, mustn’t get this one wrong. And when it was all over? Well, then he’d be a force to reckon with. After a respectable period of time, poor Gerda would die of ‘natural causes’ – he was sure he would have tracked down Hamlyn by then, and then he, Claude, would have it all in spades. He would just have to be patient for the next few weeks; get the wedding over and done with. After that, he’d be unstoppable.
He reached over and gently pushing his friend’s hand away, took Hamlyn’s cock and began to stroke. After a momentary look of surprise at his friend, Hamlyn closed his eyes again and allowed Horatio to bring him to orgasm…
Horatio woke from his dream, the ejaculate still dribbling from his still hard penis. It was still dark. He lay still, savouring the dream, the memory of that hot afternoon, all those years ago, when his fantasies had come true. Neither he nor Hamlyn had ever referred to it since and their friendship had remained strong. However, Horatio’s feelings for Hamlyn had become stronger in recent years; he found himself admitting to himself that he was in love with the handsome blond young man. He wished he knew where Hamlyn was now, right this minute. Like everyone else, he was horrified by Paul’s murder, but he couldn’t believe that his friend, someone he knew inside out, could do such a thing. There had to be an explanation, it just didn’t feel right. Hamlyn wasn’t capable of it, Horatio was sure.
Something caught his eye; his mobile ‘phone on his bedside table was flashing; that was what had woken him up, he realised. It must have been the ‘phone, which had been set to silent, vibrating. He picked it up. Sure enough, flashing on the screen was the legend, *1 message received.
He didn’t recognise the number, but he understood the message:
Are you perving me up, Hobs? There. Dawn.
There was only one person could have sent that message; only one person who knew that Horatio would instantly understand it, and that person was being very careful. No name, no details, a pay-as-you-go number. Hamlyn didn’t want anyone to know where he was – and the message proved he trusted Horatio completely.
Horatio looked at his watch; four am. He’d have to get a move on if he was to be at Hengil’s Tarn by dawn.
The tarn lay still and dark under the pre-dawn sky. Horatio’s motorcycle had made light work of the rough terrain and as he breasted the hilltop above the tarn, he saw the faint rays of the morning sun struggling over the horizon. Switching off the engine, he coasted down to the shepherd’s hut.
After the roar of the engine, the silence was deafening. It was cold here and Horatio, although warmly dressed in his leathers gave an involuntary shiver. Had he looked behind him before descending into the hollow, he might have discerned the black Range Rover, headlights extinguished, which had been following him, about a mile or so back. But he didn’t. His thoughts were entirely focused on his childhood friend, who was in need of him and was there, waiting for him in the bothy.
Horatio dismounted and taking off his crash helmet, looked about him. It was deathly quiet and here, down in the hollow, still very dark. Following the rough stone walls with his gloved hands, he found his way to the entry to the little stone hut.
“Hamlyn?” His whisper sounded like a mighty roar in this stillness. No reply.
“Hamlyn! Are you in there?” He thought he heard a faint rustling sound, but in this darkness he could see absolutely nothing.
A third time he called to his friend. “Ham…” He was cut off by a hand covering his mouth and another round his torso, pinioning his arms to his sides. He felt the breath of whoever it was on his cheek; warm, fetid.
“Are you alone?” The voice rasped in his ear.
Unable to speak, Horatio nodded.
“You’d better be.” With a sudden move, Horatio was wheeled around and half thrown into the hut, landing with a heavy thud on the earth floor, knocking the wind out of him. He felt rather than saw the figure kneeling over him, hands patting him, looking for a weapon. Evidently satisfied, the figure retreated, allowing Horatio to struggle, still winded, into a sitting position, back against the wall. He heard the sound of a match being struck and then, in the faint glow of a candle-stump, he found himself looking into the face of a wild-eyed stranger. Was this unkempt tramp really Hamlyn? If it weren’t for the piercing blue eyes, eyes that Horatio had known since boyhood, he would not be certain that this was, indeed, Prince.
“Were you followed?”
“Followed? Here? No! … I mean … I don’t think so … I don’t know…” his voice trailed off. He hadn’t checked. But no-one would have seen him slip out of the cottage, would they? He suddenly felt anxious and cursed himself for being so careless.
He felt those pale intense eyes on him, almost looking through him. He suddenly felt inadequate, as if he had let his friend down.
“Well, I suppose we’ll find out soon enough,” replied Hamlyn, grimly, pulling a long steel blade from his trenchcoat pocket. Horatio stared at the blade, then at his friend. “Hamlyn…it was you, you did kill Paul! But why?”
“I didn’t know it was him,” Hamlyn replied. “I thought it was that arsehole Claude. Paul just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It all happened so quickly…” He broke off, tears choking his voice.
At that instant he looked so small, so vulnerable and for the first time in many years, since they were small boys together, Horatio saw the real Hamlyn come to the surface, the gentle, introvert young man whom he had loved for so long. His heart went out to him.
He went over to his friend and without thinking, took the weeping blond man in his arms, holding him close. He didn’t notice the stench of Hamlyn’s unwashed state, his rough beard, the greasy hair. All he felt for his friend was love and compassion. That it had come to this… his boyhood friend, the man whom he had loved since he could remember, should be a fugitive, wanted for murder. Horatio, too, wanted to weep, but he knew he had to be strong for his friend. Somehow or other, he had to get Hamlyn out of this mess. He had no idea how, but for now, he just stood holding his dearest friend close to him, murmuring into his ear, stroking his hair, soothing the blond young man, whose world had deteriorated to nothing about him.
They stood like that for several minutes, until Hamlyn’s sobs had subsided. He held on to Horatio tightly as if his friend was the only thing keeping him upright. Horatio whispered soothing noises to him.
“We’ll find a way out of this, Prince,” he said. “It was an accident, or else you were merely defending yourself. We’ll find a way…” but even he knew that the deck was stacked against Hamlyn. An innocent man had been murdered, Hamlyn Senior’s oldest friend and advisor, and to all intents and purposes, Hamlyn’s uncle, they were so close. Gerda had witnessed the killing. She had already told the police what she had seen. Horatio couldn’t see how on earth Hamlyn was going to get away with it. There was no doubt that he had to disappear and soon. Horatio wished he had brought the Landrover, then he could have driven his friend away and hopefully found a way out of the country.
As they stood there, Hamlyn in Horatio’s tight embrace, they were startled by a tiny sound, a sound which didn’t belong there, at the tarn, in the middle of nowhere in the small hours of the morning. It was the quiet, yet in this place and at this time, deafening squeak of a brake. There it was again! There was a car edging down the hillside, engine off, the only indication of its presence that tiny, occasional tell-tale squeak.
“Quick!” whispered Horatio, as he kicked the small candle to the floor extinguishing its feeble light. “Outside and round the back! Quickly!” Hamlyn was quick to respond and the two young men, bent double, exited the bothy and hugging the wall, ran noislessly behind the small stone hut. It was still dark in the hollow, but growing brighter by the minute as the sky above began to lighten. Peering round the wall, they saw the Range-Rover as it coasted slowly and carefully down the slope, the driver applying the brakes in short, frequent bursts. Bad luck for him that the brakes made that tiny noise, bad luck for him that the slope was so steep that he was obliged to use them, bad luck for him that those whom he was seeking should be in this quiet god-forsaken spot. He knew they were there, he saw two ghostly shadows leave the hut and run round the back, but, having now got here, Larry didn’t know what to do next.
Horatio couldn’t see how many people were in the car. All he knew was that they had been discovered and that whoever ‘they’ were, they weren’t here by accident. Horatio cursed himself for not being more careful. It had to be Claude and his henchmen, he thought. It looked very bad, very bad indeed. He had often heard Claude ranting about what he’d do to Hamlyn when he found him and he was in doubt whatsoever that Claude had meant every word he said. He knew Claude and those thugs would be armed, all he and Prince had was that blade of Hamlyn’s. They didn’t stand a chance. What was worse was that Horatio’s bike stood between them and the car. They wouldn’t even be able to get to that and away without being sitting ducks for the armed men. They’d be dead before they’d gone two yards.
He looked towards his friend. “Doesn’t look good, Prince,” he muttered. He was surprised to see Hamlyn was laughing. “What the fuck! I’m not particularly interested in carrying on anyway…” he looked at his friend, serious again. “I just wish you hadn’t got mixed up in this, Hobs.” He took his friend’s arm. “I don’t care about what happens to me,” he went on, gazing intently into Horatio’s eyes, “but that you’ll get harmed as well, I couldn’t bear that. Let me go first, try and talk to whoever it is. Maybe they’ll be satisfied with just me and let you go…” Horatio could see that Hamlyn didn’t believe what he was saying. He pulled his friend close to him, holding him in an almost desperate bearhug. “Don’t worry about me, Prince. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you! Remember, we’re best friends and best friends stick together. I won’t let them hurt you!”
Suddenly, without any warning, Hamlyn pulled his friend’s face to his and kissed him long and hard on the lips, drawing his friend as close as he could to his own body. They stood for what seemed an age, deeply kissing one another, each one expecting a hail of bullets to end it all at any second. They were beyond fear. They were beyond this world. They were, as they should always have been, together.
There were no shouts, no hail of bullets, no sudden end. Just a soft, sardonic voice:
“How touching! The two boyfriends! Horatio has finally found the love of his life! What a shame your lives are going to be so short.”
Larry levelled the .22 at the two young men and slipped off the safety.
Claude swore loudly to himself as he pressed his foot hard down on the accellerator, the Porsche’s powerful engine screaming in protest as it bumped over the uneven ground. The low-slung sports car was not designed for offroading and for the hundredth time, it seemed, the bottom scraped over an outcropping rock. Claude couldn’t follow in the Range-Rover’s exact trail, the terrain was too uneven, so he lost valuable time skirting round and about, choosing fields rather than the open moor. He had seen the Range-Rover slipping out past the big house and without stopping to think, had leapt into the closest vehicle he could find. His bodyguards weren’t answering their mobiles, probably at some knocking-shop or other in town. Claude swore again as he narrowly avoided a ditch. His henchmen would be unemployed – unemployable, even, by this time tomorrow. Dammit, it was their job to be on call twenty-four-seven. He’d make sure they’d pay. But he had to concentrate on his driving for now. Those apes could wait. Where was that pansy, Larry off to? Could it be he was in league with Hamlyn and Horatio? Claude thought not. He had seen how devastated Larry was at the death, no murder of his father and how he’d sworn he’d track down Hamlyn and make him pay. Claude realised he should have been more alert and had Larry under surveillance as well as Horatio. How the fuck did Horatio slip away unseen? Those stupid gorillas had let him down and let him down badly. He’d have their balls on toast. Claude had seen the direction in which the Range-Rover had taken, he’d have a good view once he had breasted the next hill. He manouevered the sports car over the muddy field and crashed through the gate at the top of the hill at the same time as Larry slipped off the safety catch.
“I wondered how long it would be before you led me to him,” Larry continued, indicating me with a slight toss of the head and talking to Horatio, but never taking his eyes off either of them. He seemed perfectly calm and composed, the hand that held the gun was quite still; Larry had perfected the art of controlling his feelings.
“What I don’t understand,” he went on, giving Hamlyn a quick glance, “is why my father? What had he ever done to you, Hamlyn? He loved you like a son.”
Hamlyn and Horatio stood stock still, their arms still around each other, as they faced their potential killer. Strangely enough, Horatio felt no fear, what would happen, would happen.
“Larry,” Hamlyn’s voice broke the tense silence. “I loved Paul too. Honestly. It really was an accident. You must believe me, no-one regrets it more than I do. When I heard someone behind me, I thought it was Claude and all I could think of was that I wanted him dead, that all my … all our problems would be solved with him out of the way. It was an instinctive reaction, it was over before I knew what I had done. I really, truly, deeply regret it, Larry you must believe me.”
Horatio was moved by the honest sincerity of his friend. The two young men were still holding each other tightly.
Larry, however, appeared unmoved. He sneered: “Yeah, right. Claude put you up to it. If you hadn’t done it, he would have. That way he doesn’t get his hands dirty. How much did he pay you, Hamlyn? Give the little boy a sweetener, get him to back out of the business, hand it all over to him, get rid of the awkward people, those people who knew what he was up to?”
“No, Larry, that’s not it! Not it at all!” Hamlyn released Horatio and took a step towards Larry.
“Stay right where you are!”
“But Larry, you must believe me…” Hamlyn took another couple of paces forwards.
“I mean it,” said Larry, waving the gun threateningly, “stop right there. I will shoot you, Hamlyn. Don’t move!” At that moment, the angry noise of a sports car’s engine being revved insanely reached their ears. Instinctively, Larry’s gaze shifted to where the sound was coming from. Hamlyn saw his opportunity and flinging himself the last few yards at Larry and brought him down in a spectacular rugby tackle. In the short struggle which ensued, Horatio was aware of a gun going off, just at the same instant as a silver coloured Porsche breasted the hill and began to race down the slope towards them.
“Catch, Hobs! Roof!” Hamlyn yelled, flinging the gun towards his friend, who caught it and almost simultaneously turned and scrambled up onto the low sloping turf roof of the bothy. The grass on the roof was shaggy and long. Horatio hunkered down and covertly viewed the scene before him.
Hamlyn was sitting astride the prone figure of Larry, who lay without moving. Horatio guessed the gun had gone off in the struggle and either wounded or even killed Larry.
The sports car was heading at speed straight down the hill, bumping and scraping over the small rocks that got in its way. The car screeched to a halt, the driver’s door on the far side, away from the two figures on the ground. Whoever was driving, was thinking clearly, Horatio observed. There must have been about a fifteen second wait before the driver’s door opened and a figure emerged. Claude. He stayed in the shelter of the car, hands on the roof of the little car, holding a gun, which he trained on the two prone figures. Horatio hunkered down as flat as he could, his eyes trained on Claude down the barrel of the revolver. Hamlyn didn’t move, but anyone could see, even in this light, which was improving by the minute, that he wasn’t dead. He looked towards Claude, unmoving.
“My, my, Hamlyn! You’re getting a taste for killing!” The older man rasped in what was an approximation of laughter. “You’ve been very useful to me, you little Nemesis! First Paul, now his limp-wristed pathetic son!” He changed the tone of his voice, trying to sound cajoling. “Now why don’t you join me, little Prince? You and me together, we could make a killing with this business. Just a couple more … obstacles to be got out of the way, then we’ll be the kings of the castle! What do you say, Hamlyn? You and me? We’d make a good team. We’d be unstoppable!”
“You have to be fucking joking!” Hamlyn spoke just loud enough to be heard. His eyes never left Claude and the gun his uncle was holding. Larry lay very still. Horatio assumed he was dead. Hamlyn shifted very sightly into a more upright position. At the same moment his uncle fired a shot, wide and high, the noise of the small revolver’s report ringing through the hollow. “Nothing fancy, Hamlyn! Anything sudden and I would have no hesitation – none at all in sending you to join Larrykins there.” Claude let the threat hang in the air before continuing, his voice again oleaginous, false: “so, what’s it to be, Hamlyn? Fancy joining forces? Your good looks and my, shall we say, business acumen, would get us a long way. Elsingham Holdings would be just the beginning! I’ve got my eyes on Fortins, the Polish investors. They’re thinking of a hostile takeover bid, but that won’t happen, my lad and with you on board to deal with their junior partner, who’s as bent as a three-pound-note, by the way, we’d turn the tables on them and take them over. C’mon now, what do you say?”
“Didn’t you just hear me?” said Hamlyn, slightly louder, but his voice still dangerously quiet. “I wouldn’t have anything at all to do with you, you murdering two-faced, lying bastard!”
“Tut, tut! What smutty language from such a pretty mouth!” Claude put on a pretence of being shocked. “Where did you learn that from dear boy? Doubtless from your common grammar-school friends…” He stopped suddenly, his eyes narrowed.
“Which reminds me, where is your pretty young friend, Horatio? He did come out here, didn’t he, Hamlyn? That’s who Larrykins was following wasn’t it?” His voice changed yet again and took on a dangerous tone. Waving the gun, he went on: “Come out, come out, wherever you are, Horatio! I know you’re there! Frightened are we? Too scared to save your friend? Want to see him die, do you? Because, let me assure you, he will die if he doesn’t accept his good old uncle’s offer! Show yourself, Horatio!”
Hamlyn saw that Claude had no idea where Horatio was concealed, although it couldn’t have taken much imagination to assume that he was probably hiding in the hut. He saw Claude’s gaze flicker to the dark doorway to the bothy.
“No matter,” said Claude, matter-of-factly. “Once I’ve got rid of you, pretty Prince, then I’ll have no trouble sniffing out that little gardener’s boy. He’ll just die a little bit later, that’s all.”
“Why did you let my father die?” muttered Hamlyn.
“Oh, my dear boy! It was too good an opportunity to miss! I mean, how fortunate for me that it happened when and how it did! Couldn’t have worked out better! Of course I had to let the old buffoon die, you silly boy! His oh so high moral stance, keeping me out of the business! How dare he!! I could have made the business so much more profitable, so much more fun, but your stick-in-the-mud father and that stupid Paul didn’t see it that way. Business ethics, they said! Silly fools! What successful businessman has ethics for Christ’s sake?” Claude paused to wipe the spittle from the corners of his mouth. His eyes had a wild look to them. Horatio could see that the man could hardly be described as fully sane. Again, his mood and tone changed:
“Come now, Hamlyn, dear boy! What say you? Hamlyn and Uncle Claude together running the whole shebang! You wouldn’t regret it, I promise you.”
“What I don’t understand is why my mother…” Hamlyn got no further, Claude interrupted him with an almost animal snarl.
“That stupid bitch! She was no problem to bring round! I just made up a few – inconvenient facts about her sainted husband which she swallowed hook, line and sinker and then she was like putty in my hands! She’ll marry me, then it will just be a question of time before she meets with an unfortunate accident. And then…”
“Now, Hobs! Now!”
Claude looked up in amazement at the interruption, his eyes and mouth wide open. Too late, he saw the slight movement in the tall grass growing on the turf roof of the bothy. Before he had any time to react, the sun came up over the rim of the hollow, shining full in his face. He neither saw Horatio, nor heard the shot which landed square in the middle of his forhead. Claude went down, silently sliding down behind the small sports car. The shot echoed around the hollow for what seemed like for ever, before all was still and quiet again.
Nothing moved. The tarn lay still, not a breath of wind to stir it’s surface, and the sun’s rays struck the other side of the hollow, a vivid patch of green. The engine of the Porsche ticked quietly as it cooled.
Very slowly, Hamlyn got to his feet, and looking down at Larry’s inert body said quietly, “poor friend! Now I’ve killed you as well. No-one left to mourn you. Paul, Poppy, now you.” He bowed his head and wept silently.
Horatio slipped down from the roof of the shepherd’s hut and before doing anything else, went cautiously towards the Porsche, gun held at the ready. He wouldn’t believe that Claude was dead until he had checked for himself. When he got to the other side of the sports car, it was obvious that Claude was very dead indeed.
“What do we do, Hamlyn?”
Hamlyn seemed to shake off his melancholy and was at once brisk and businesslike. “Let’s get them into the sports car.” He noticed Horatio’s qustioning look. ”One shot each, both dead. Make it look like a quarrel, or a suicide pact. Get them into the car. You’re still wearing your gloves?” Horatio was indeed still wearing his motorcycle gloves. “Good, then Hobbs, if you can do it, get them into the car. Put Claude into the driver’s seat.”
Horatio dragged the bodies into the Porsche and somehow got them into the car.
“Put the gun into Claude’s hand and make sure you get his prints all over it.” Hamlyn picked up Claude’s revolver and wiped it clean with his handkerchief, before pocketing it. The bodies safely in the car, Hamlyn directed Horatio to help him turn the car so that it was pointing towards the tarn. “Start the engine, then put Larry’s foot on the accelerator and get it into gear, then we’ll let it drive into the water. We’ll have to be quick getting the doors closed and us out of the way, but it’s possible.”
They watched as the car rolled forward, the weight of Larry’s foot enough to give the car forward motion into the water. The silver Porsche raced into the tarn, sinking below the surface in the middle of the lake.
Hamlyn glanced skywards. “I think we’re going to be lucky, Hobs, look!” The sky was clouding over and even as they watched, heavy drops of rain began to fall. “That’ll help get rid of all the extra tyre-tracks and footprints,” said Hamlyn as the rain suddenly got heavier. “Now we have to get out of here. You take your bike and I’ll take the Land-Rover. Let’s arrange to meet up at the airport in, say, a week’s time. Next Friday, airport. We’ll get away from here and start a new life … together. Agreed?”
Horatio stood dumbly, as his friend, now held him close and kissed him. “I love you Hobs, I see now that I always have.” He looked into his friend’s eyes, a troubled expression on his face. “You still…still have feelings for me, Hobs?” In reply, Horatio hugged his friend close, kissing the blond man deeply and passionately full on the lips. “Does that answer your question?” he finally said.
Later that same day, Gerda stared down at the papers in her hand. Horatio had brought them, finding them in his father’s safety-deposit box at the bank. Apart from some personal stuff, there were some documents there which proved conclusively what Claude had been planning; how he had bribed several members of the Board to go along with his business plans. There was also a copy of police reports detailing Claude’s various ‘ventures’ which he had thought no-one would remember about. However, Paul had had Claude under investigation from very early on; he had never trusted him, which was why he had insisted with Hamlyn senior that his brother be kept as far away from the family business as possible.
“I, I cannot believe this!” murmured Gerda as she took in the enormity of her fiance’s criminality. “Where’s Claude? Why isn’t he here to refute this, this…”
“He’s obviously done a bunk, Gerda”, lied Horatio, following the plan he and Hamlyn had worked out earlier. “He knows his back’s to the wall and he’s vanished. Luckily he hasn’t managed to get his hands on any of the firm’s assets.”
“But, he said he loved me!” Gerda looked incredulously at the damning evidence in her hands.
“Claude loved no-one but himself, Gerda.” Horatio looked sadly at his lover’s mother. “All he wanted was the business, at whatever cost. If it meant hoodwinking you into marrying him, then he was prepared to do it.” He produced another piece of paper. It was a copy of a marriage certificate. “Claude was a married man. We know she’s still alive, and living somewhere in the country. It shouldn’t be too difficult to trace her and prove it.” He hated being the cause of Gerda’s torment, but she had to know the truth about the evil man who very nearly took everything from her.
“But he’ll be back, won’t he, Horatio? I mean, Claude will be back to…to go through with his plan?”
“I somehow don’t think so, Gerda,” replied the young man, continuing the lie he and Hamlyn had worked out after leaving the hollow with the Porsche submerged in the deep, ancient tarn.
“Paul was nobody’s fool,” went on Horatio, “he might have appeared to be a bumbling eccentric, but he had everything under control and he knew exactly what kind of person Claude was and what his intentions were.” Here Horatio paused. What he had to say next would cause Gerda great pain and grief, he knew, but he also knew he had to tell her. He recounted how he had witnessed Claude’s actions as Hamlyn Senior lay dying in the office. Gerda went very pale, her shoulders slumped as she sat and heard Horatio’s account. She felt suddenly very old and very, very tired.
Horatio finished his story. For a long while there was a deep silence in the room, broken only by the solemn ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner.
“Leave me now, Horatio. I’m very tired. I need to rest and think.”
“Is there anything I can get you?”
“No, dear.” She paused. “You know where Hamlyn is?” It wasn’t a question, it was more of a statement. Horatio said nothing, but nodded his head, very slightly. “And…” she seemed to have trouble continuing, but with what appeared to be a great effort Gerda went on, “and you know what has happened to Claude, don’t you?” She paused again, as if by not saying what she was going to say would mean it was not true. After a few moments, seemingly giving up this false hope, she went on: “He won’t be coming back, will he?”
Again, Horatio only nodded slightly.
“I, … I would like to see Hamlyn again. I … I see now what he did was an accident, a horrible, cruel twist of fate. Hamlyn told me all about Claude, and I wouldn’t listen. It’s my fault that Paul is…” she broke off, stifling a sob.
“Hush, now, Gerda. You need rest. If I can, I’ll ask Hamlyn to contact you, but you know, the police…”
“I’ll tell the police I was mistaken. I’ll tell them I didn’t actually witness what Hamlyn did. Poor boy. Poor, poor boy. What have I done to him? What did Claude…?”
She nodded her head and closed her eyes. Looking down at her, Horatio saw how she seemed to have suddenly aged, her lined face grey, cheeks hollow. He crept from the drawing-room, quietly closing the door behind him. He doubted whether Hamlyn would risk coming back to the house. It wasn’t by any means certain that the police would accept Gerda’s changed statement, even if she did get around to making it. Hamlyn was still wanted for Paul’s murder.
As he left the house, Horatio wondered if the Porsche would ever be found, and if so, how soon would that be? He thought it highly unlikely. The heavy rain that day had washed away all traces of visitors to the bothy. The tarn was deep and rarely visited. He expected Larry and Claude’s bodies to be there, undisturbed for a very long time indeed.
Horatio walked through the extensive grounds of the impressive building, towards the gates at the end of the drive some half a mile away. At the turn in the road, he looked back at the soft golden stone of the building and wondered if he would ever see it again. Then, turning his back on Elsingham House, he slowly walked away, as the clouds parted, bathing the house in soft spring sunshine.
Gerda did make a new statement to the police, where she told them she had been confused and that she had stumbled upon Paul’s body in the conservatory, and hadn’t seen who had killed him. She said she had seen a strange tramp around the estate a day or two before and assumed that the vagrant had broken into the house and been startled by Paul in the act of burglary. DCI Gildenstone was somewhat sceptical at first, but Gerda stuck to her story and there was no way to prove or disprove it. A new verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown was returned by the coroner. However, the police did not close the case and Hamlyn was still wanted for questioning, in police jargon, ‘to help with their enquiries,’ but not for murder.
Hamlyn did get in touch with his mother, but only by telephone. They did not meet. Gerda, now the head of Elsingham Holdings, dissolved the company, liquified the assets and paid a very substantial fortune into an account she opened in her son’s name in the Cayman Islands. She and Hamlyn would have met, but before they had a chance, she died of a heart attack. She had never fully regained her strength after that day when Horatio broke the news of Claude’s past to her. Only a few estate workers were present at her funeral. Elsingham House was sold and, ironically, turned into a country house hotel and spa by one of Claude’s business rivals, Fortins, the company from Poland.
Horatio and Hamlyn moved abroad, to Denmark, where Hamlyn’s mother’s side of the family came from and where they were able to live openly together as gay lovers.
Two heads on a pillow; one blond, one jet black.
Two naked bodies, gently yet passionately making love…
And, finally, “Goodnight, sweet Prince…”
F I N I S
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