Paul Purnell

Short stories and other work

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It was 2017 and Harlequin was bored. He put aside his mask and carnival clothing and changed shape for fun.

Sitting in a Knightsbridge Costa, he checked over the girls chattering around him. Two blondes in Pashminas, long boots and flicking hair; No. A brunette; hair dye too dark, faux fur coat; constantly on her I-phone; No. The girl with red hair? She arrived carrying her Latte and searched for a seat. He looked up and smiled, moving along the bench seat to make room. At first, she glanced elsewhere but he had chosen carefully and kept space on his table. With a diffident smile, she sat down carefully placing her china mug on the table. He glanced at his Times and then caught her eye.

“Busy time–have you enough room?”

She murmured something in reply which he didn’t catch. He noticed her hands were long and thin and the way she held the drink, as if a precious thing, so delicate that it might break if she put it down.

“Much better in a china cup, don’t you think? I hate those plastic beakers!”

She looked at him for a second and nodded but she said nothing.

He lent forward, not too far but, just enough to engage her attention and try his best smile–the one he used to show his sincerity. His blue eyes gazed straight into her eyes.

“Can I ask you a question?” He spoke gently and he waited for her reply.

“What is it?” She looked back, curious.

“I have the feeling you are a musician,” he said, he held up his hand and smiled again–“don’t tell me yet! I want to know if you find that too intrusive.”

“I don’t mind,” she said and put the mug down on the table. “I’m just working in the Art Gallery in Montpellier Street, I’m no musician.”

He put on a grimace, showing his even white teeth as he bit his lip. “Oh Dear! I know you are artistic but certain you were musical!”

“How would you know that?”

“Because I’m a natural!” he laughed and ran his hand through his wavy blond hair. “I’m never totally wrong. You must have some connection with music.”

“Well, I sing in a choir at home but not down here.”

“I knew it, will you allow me to boast, if I say I was part right at least?”

She laughed and he noticed how the corners of her mouth lifted as she smiled exposing her neat white teeth and heart shaped lips.

He moved to leave. It was time to go; first step done. He folded his Times and stood up. She didn’t see him slip a paperback book onto the floor near her feet. He smiled again, said goodbye with a wave and made his way out into the Brompton Road. He moved away swiftly once he left the coffee bar, to make sure she could not catch him and return the book on the spot. That would be annoying. He had left his mobile number and assumed name on the fly leaf to set up the next move.

The afternoon went by slowly. He sauntered through Harrods, noting the glitzy displays and vulgarity which he deplored. Once or twice he marked an admiring glance from the glossy women as he wandered from one department to another but his mind strayed to the girl in the coffee bar. It would be more fun to corrupt her than spend time with some rich socialite accustomed to the vices he habitually abused. Sometimes he longed for the bawdy life of the Medici Popes and their rowdy catamites and licentious cardinals. These modern times were tame, but interesting.

On Friday of that week he spent the morning in the Art Galleries of New Bond Street, away from Knightsbridge, but full of the latest trends in expensive art. He bought catalogues for several upcoming exhibitions and studied them. At the Albemarle, he gave one of his cards to the receptionist.

“Yes Mr Harlekan, we will be open for you on Friday, of course.” He nodded and left.

On Monday, he scanned the Costa to see if she had returned. She had not rung him to return his book and he wondered if she might have missed it. He went in and sat at his usual place. The clientele seemed identical. He wondered if there was some time warp at work; the blondes and the covens of smart ladies chattering appeared to be the same. Then she walked in. Her auburn hair pinned up on top of her head and her long neck accentuated by pearl earrings. She looked round and saw him and smiled shyly. He waved to her to join him and she hesitated but gathered up her cup and came over.

“I wanted to catch you,” she said,” I found this book under the table last week. Is it yours?”

“Thank God! I am reviewing it for the Guardian,” he lied “I have a deadline!”

He asked her whether she had read it and she shook her head. She blushed and lowered her eyes in confusion. His eyes glinted with malicious delight as he saw the effect he created.

“No, I didn’t forget,” she said “I hoped to find you here again, so here it is.” She handed over the book without another word.

“Does this mean you forgive me for my intrusive questions?” He laughed and grinned easily to relieve her embarrassment. “Look, I am thrilled you thought of me and so kind of you to return the book yourself. You don’t know how much it means.”

She sipped her coffee and looked up at him for the first time. He liked her large green eyes and how the light from the room caught the deep red tints in her hair. She really was a prize.

When she got up to leave, he offered to walk with her the few hundred yards as far as Montpellier Street. They spoke about her work in the gallery and the exhibition on show there.

Look” he said “Can we meet some time this week? I’d like to show you a Paul Klee I’ve seen on the Albemarle Gallery, which I like. Would you come?”

“To buy?” She said.

“Yes, I have a small collection and enjoy adding to it.” He spoke as if it was a matter of minor interest and noted the effect when she opened her eyes with surprise

“Do come” he said “can you make Friday afternoon?”

“Well, yes I suppose. I could get away at about four.”

“It’s a date.” he said. “I’ll come round to the gallery and collect you. I’m James Harlekan, by the way”

“Jane Seymour.”

They exchanged mobile numbers and he took her hand as he left, just a moment’s contact, but enough to signal his interest. She gave a brief wave and he walked away. The smile on his face was not one he wanted her to see.

Friday morning he chose some expensive jeans and a cashmere polo neck for the occasion. He spent the late morning and lunch at his club and decided to walk through Green Park to Montpellier Street. It was a warm day and the silky air reminded him of other times. Like the day he seduced the Duchess of Alba in 1576-or was it 1578?–and killed the Duke in a duel the following morning. The summer days with Nero at his palace with the Nubian Princesses; what fun there had been and such fearful consequences! Modern times were much quieter but still, there were pleasures to be had.

She was waiting outside the gallery when he arrived. He hurried forward.

“I walked through the park and forgot the time, I’m so sorry!” “Well, we close early on Friday. Most people have gone away for the week end.” People, meant the wealthy Knightsbridge crowd.

They took a taxi to Piccadilly and chatted on the way about favourite painters. She adored Hockney and disagreed about Francis Bacon and they arrived at Albemarle Street in a few minutes. A young man was waiting for them. “I hope we haven’t kept you. Most people want to get away on Friday afternoon.”

Harlequin offered his hand and the smart-suited fresh faced young man semi-bowed.

“We always have time for an enthusiastic client.” He said and showed the way into the gallery. It was carpeted with fine rugs and the room breathed a mellow atmosphere of luxury. Fine French empire furniture mixed with a few modern pieces decorated the floor and they were conducted through into the gallery itself where an elderly man with a goatee beard awaited them. He wore a grey suit and a Hurlingham Club Tie with its purple garish colours. As if he had known him for years, he greeted Harlequin, pressing his arm in a familiar way.

Champagne and canapes were laid out on a Pembroke table and they were helped to them by the younger man. It was amusing to see the antics of these mortals with their minor cupidity, prostrating themselves for money. Under soft spot light, two paintings, mounted on easels, caught the eye with dazzling colours splashed across the canvas.

“So fine,” said the elegant older man, “he took several years to recover from the war, you know.”

“But his output was prodigious,” said Harlekan, “I prefer his later work and I’m looking for smaller late pieces for my collection.”

The old man nodded sagely, “Yes, I understand, so much more sophisticated, would you say?”

“Agreed.” He turned to Jane “What do you feel from these two? Do they resonate with you?”

She said “They are museum pieces, not for a small private collection, if I am allowed to say so.”

“Of course you can, dear lady, you show a very wise judgement, if I may say so.” The old man smiled at her with gritted teeth.

“Anything later?” Harlekan dismissed the two masterpieces with a wave of his hand.

“Well, we are sure to have something to intrigue you within the next few weeks.”

Harlequin smiled at this. He recalled the old men in the souks on Casablanca used the same phrase when they had nothing appealing to sell.

“By all means let me know while I am in London.” He offered his hand and wished them both good day.

“What conceit!” he said as he escorted Jane across Piccadilly. “Let’s wash the taste away with tea in Fortnum’s”

She laughed and was relieved that he had valued her opinion and agreed with it. Soon they were chatting freely and time passed quickly.

“I suppose you have plans to go down to the country this week end?” he dangled the prospect of further meetings with a smile which quickened her heart.

She blushed and Harlequin noted the charming colour that came to her cheeks. For a single second he felt a twinge of compassion for this immaculate young woman, but the impulse to torment and win was too strong to resist. He took her hand and held it gently. ”

I can’t imagine what is happening to me” he said “I feel as if we’ve known each other for a long time, yet there are so many things I want to learn about you.”

She looked into his wide blue eyes and left her hand in his while he spoke.

“Could we meet again soon?”

“I don’t know what to say” she said, “we are strangers; I suppose yes,” -here she looked down–I would like that too.”

He held her hand for a second then released it.. He busied himself with the tea things, making sure he was inept so she would take over. Predictably, she enjoyed the simple task and he smiled appreciatively.

“Well, am I too pressing if I ask, would like to go to see the new film at the Academy tomorrow night?”

She smiled, “I’d love to. I wanted to catch it and haven’t had a chance.”

“That’s wonderful,” he said and dropped the subject for the moment.

They talked about her family in Wiltshire; Daddy at the stud farm and mother as a JP in the local magistrate court. Then he told her lies about his foreign background and banking interests which kept him travelling most of the year. She accepted all of it and he enjoyed the fantasy as she gazed at him with innocent credulous eyes. When the time came to leave, he hailed a taxi and she gave her address in South Ken. On the way, he made arrangements to pick her up at seven for the show at nine p.m. He gave her a peck on the cheek as she left the cab and she waved as he pulled away.

He was comfortable. Pleased with progress, he gave the cabbie instructions to drop him at Shepherd’s Market off Park Lane. This was an area he had known since Georgian Times. Of course it had changed! But the gambling houses and high class brothels still flourished. Just the clientele was different. Instead of dandies in silken hose and blowsy tarts, there were Arabs with limitless cash and their entourages. The girls were different too; cleaner and more luxurious.

He knocked at the door of number *** and a black man opened the door carefully, then he smiled broadly.

“Welcome back Mr Harlekan. Good to see you! Your usual table?”

“Thank you Bob, can you get me some company?” He spent the rest of the night with two beautiful Russian girls and plenty of white powder to sustain him. Strangely, in the still moments of the highs, he felt it was all too familiar, too repetitive and stale. He left at three o’clock and made his way back to Albany off Piccadilly to sleep a dreamless sleep. He awoke at four in the afternoon and ruminated on what to wear and how to arrange his evening entertainment. His flat had been furnished to his taste. He had always enjoyed the voluptuous silks and colourful drapes from the Ottoman palaces of Persia. They brought back memories of exotic nights, wild escapades and perfumed women, captives for pleasure. He ordered new sheets of silk and chilled champagne for the evening. Then he bathed and chose his clothes with care.

At seven precisely, he arrived at her door, a single rose in his hand. She stood in the doorway and held it like a precious jewel marvelling at its glowing colour.

“It’s a summer rose from Provence,” he said “I sent specially for you.”

She smiled and offered her cheek shyly as gesture of thanks.

“So lovely!”

His heart gave a strange skip. What was wrong? He ignored it.

She wore a simple dress of plain blue with a belt of black leather around her slim waist. Her hair was loose and as she moved it flowed around her pale face in a glossy wave. He handed her into the cab and he watched her graceful figure as she sat besides him. Something was wrong. His fingers tremored as he sat alongside her; he gripped the door handle of the cab to steady himself. She chatted excitedly about the film and never noticed how silent he was. When they reached The Curzon, he got out first. He felt better as he touched the ground. Nothing to worry about, then.

The film was a black comedy created by some avant-garde Italian director. She laughed in all the right places and he enjoyed the fact that they both saw the crux of the film in unison. At I one point, she rested her head against his shoulder and her soft scented hair brushed against his cheek. It was a gesture he had never felt before–a natural touch, not a deliberate move as he had done a thousand times before. Something strange and yet exciting. Again, the little throb made his heart beat out of time. He became a little dizzy and sweat gathered on his forehead. He wiped it away and sat upright. She touched his hand, concerned,

“Are you alright?” she said, “you seem uneasy?”

“No. I’m fine. It’s just a little hot in here.”

It soon passed and they enjoyed the rest of the film. As they left, she took his arm naturally and he sensed the warmth of her body next to his as they strolled towards Piccadilly. It felt good and he returned her smile as they made their way among the Saturday night crowds enjoying the late summer evening. “Where are we going?” She asked “I thought you might like a bite to eat at Albany, it should be fun on a warm evening.”

“Where’s that? I haven’t heard of it. Is it a restaurant?”

“Well not exactly, just the most special place that few people in London know about.”

He smiled his special dazzling smile and tucked in her arm protectively.

“Wait and see.”

The Albany is set back from Piccadilly in a courtyard with elaborate gates away from the bustling street. Built as apartments in the early nineteenth century, it remains, perhaps, the most exclusive address in London. A uniformed porter saluted as they came in to the oval courtyard and Jane wondered how she had missed the elegant building which she must have passed a hundred times. Lights gleamed from behind doors of mahogany and glass; beyond were Persian carpets and gleaming brass fittings.

Jane stiffened a little as she wondered at the luxury of the scene. She had imagined some dining Club with a noisy society crowd but this was all in exquisite taste but so silent and dignified, a little daunting.

“Come and see where I live.” He said and threw open the door to his apartment. They walked in and she gazed at the opulent drapes and bright colours of the room with some surprise. It was exotic and luxurious at the same time; as if she had passed out of modern London into a world of Arabian Nights.

“It’s fascinating,” she said and he took her arm and guided her to one of the sofas arranged around the fireplace.

“I can be lonely here,” he said, “but it suits me, I have to write, you know.”

He spoke as if it was a burden that weighed him down, “Deadlines can be a curse!

” He took up a phone on a side table and rang for room service. Without consulting her, he ordered cold salmon with mayonnaise and thin white bread.

“Are you hungry?” he smiled and kissed her hair as he passed by on the way to the kitchen. She felt nervous but excited.

“Yes, I’m famished!”

He returned with a bottle of dry sherry, cold from the fridge and poured two tall glasses of the pale yellow wine. They drank and discussed the film while waiting for the meal. Gradually, she relaxed and began to enjoy the ambience of luxury and isolation which the apartment provided. When the meal arrived, they both ate with appetite and laughed a lot.

Harlequin joined her on the sofa as he filled her glass a second time and helped her to more food. She sat close to him and afterwards, he played a little on the piano in the alcove of the room. She told him how much she enjoyed it and asked him to play something romantic.

“Will you come and sit beside me, to inspire me?” He said and he recalled a night when he had seduced one of Edward the Seventh’s mistresses in this very apartment with the same ploy. He had to leave London for a season as a result, but the scandal had been worth it.

She did sit next to the piano stool and he had the chance to see her in the warm lamplight. Her hair was soft and waved in a natural way unlike the sophisticated styles of the women he was used to. Her skin was radiant, but with a glow of good health and her green eyes reflected the light in such a way that he saw his own reflection clearly in them.

He began to play something he recalled but could not remember its name; she got up and danced, moving gently to the rhythm. “I know this,” she said “It’s Ivor Novello.”

He watched her as he played, her feet tracing a delicate pattern across the carpeted floor; she was enchanting. She had the grace and a lightness of spirit which only existed in an innocent soul and was spellbinding. He played on with some difficulty but his mind began to falter. He gasped for breath and his fingers would not follow his commands.

She stopped dancing immediately and ran to him. He stumbled from the piano and she helped him to the sofa. His face was ash grey and he sat back against her arm as she cradled him. “What happened?” She cried “Is there something I can do?”

He shook his head, although his mind was in turmoil. He knew what the trouble was affecting him. “You must go,” he said, “Forgive me, I have to be alone tonight. Can you ask the porter for a cab?”

“But I must stay; I can’t leave you like this!”

He moaned, with every word she said. He writhed with pain and she trembled as she held him in her arms, feeling desperate to do something to help. He knew that every minute she stayed would be like a torment. Her innocence and untouched beauty was like a caustic poison scorching his soul. He turned his face away and felt the transformation begin.

“Go! I said go!”

He looked down and the shame of deceit welled up inside him. She hesitated, uncertain how to deal with this stern unexpected order. Gathering all his strength, he stood and turned towards her.

“Now GO! The Comedy is over!”

She shrank at the sight of his face. A mask covered his eyes and his face was a pallid narrow shape with painted lips and pointed teeth. His head was covered in a black skull cap and he stared with a luminous glare. Then he crouched down on the floor and sobbed.

He knew that whatever pain he inflicted, he suffered eternally; knowing pure innocence was sublime and unobtainable.

Star Fire

She pushed her things into a bag and slammed out of the door. I ran after her down the path leading to the jetty and grabbed her arm.

‘You can’t go like this.’

‘Let go of my arm,’ she said and she looked out to sea where the boat was approaching.

Two months ago we arrived on Flanna, as excited as children. At last, our dream of life together began. I gave up my job in London and she came from New Zealand to be with me. The island seemed perfect: remote, beautiful and just the place for us to work. Jo was a writer and I was an observer for the Astrophysics Society, plotting the movement of the planets.

The boat called every two months and neither of us looked for company. We had each other – and the stars.

Yes, the stars. People tell of the brightness of starlight seen from the Atlas Mountains, but they cannot imagine the commanding sight of the Borealis as it swoops and dances over Flanna. Your skin tingles, your eyes are filled with light. Every nerve is on fire and your breath is stifled.

When we first arrived, I tried to show Jo how strong the attraction was.

She laughed and said, ‘You’re becoming hypnotised. It’s only the Northern Lights.’

It was an absurd remark. Surely, anyone can appreciate the power of the starlight?

Two weeks later, I stayed out all night to record the movements. She complained.

‘You can set up the cameras to record, you don’t have to be there.’

I didn’t reply. How was I to tell her that the starlight radiated its power on me, demanding I should be there? When I returned at dawn, my skin purple with the freezing night air, I noticed her expression of disdain. I went silently to bed, alone.

She spoke to me the next day.

‘James, let’s try to do something together. Can you look at my script and tell me what you think?’

I smiled to humour her and pretended to scan her writing. It was hopeless. The words meant nothing to me, just scribbles on the page. I made some anodyne comment to appease her but I saw the disappointment in her eyes.

I wanted to grip her and shout, ‘Jo, the stars are the energy of the universe, can’t you see? We must absorb their power to survive!’

But I felt her psyche resisting me. I said nothing.

The Society began to be troublesome; they demanded regular reports. I logged the movements of various nebulae but they wanted more. They had no understanding of real cosmic influence; they only recorded data not the power of the universe.

I stopped sending in reports. What was the point? The real work had to be harnessing the energy of the Borealis to increase one’s own significance.

I found a way to do this. Each night, leaving the croft, I stood on the highest point on the island. Above me the whole of the northern sky poured its radiance down on me. The core of my being absorbed the mighty power of the stars. I shouted and screamed with delight. At last I had true union with the universe.

I begged Jo to come out and feel the transfiguration on the mountaintop. She shook her head and kept to the house as if it was some shell or carapace to protect her. I left her to it.

Now, the weeks pass and I find my life becoming focussed. I need more time to intensify the energy. You need to concentrate and trivial matters like food and sleep, drop away. She never understood this; I tried to explain but she looked away and spent her time writing in her stupid journal.

Then the next boat was due. I watched on the mountain as usual during the night, while she lay wrapped in a blanket indoors. At one point, she came out into the night air and called to me. I heard her voice but the radiance of the stars possessed my spirit once again. I shouted for her to join me in the ecstasy of true light but she never came.

The next day, she left. I tried to talk to her but it was useless.

I miss her presence here on the island. It is lonely during the day. I am fading slowly into the atmosphere, like a jet of flame burning lower each day. Soon I will be a spirit at one with the stars. I am waiting, I am ready.


Living in Sin

Kemp switched off the engine and let the hire car drift to a stop under a tree.

The shade was welcome after the two hour drive from Malaga Airport. He pulled out some binoculars and focussed on the villa below the road. The sun shimmered off the tiles and everything baked in the fierce heat.

Christ! What am I doing here at this time of day? Should have waited till evening or come earlier.”

Then he reasoned he had no choice. The girl had been due to leave any day soon and he needed to be sure of her identity. This was a good gig with plenty expenses; something he could not turn down.

After a long half hour, something happened, down below. A lean-looking minder, equipped with the usual dark glasses and a cheap suit, walked up the drive towards the road. He looked up and down without paying much attention. Kemp blessed the shade which hid his position from the driveway. The man strolled back down the hill and out of sight.

The day before, Kemp got a call from the Security Agency in London. Someone cancelled at short notice. Was he available?

You bet!”  But he said: “I can fit it in if I can be back in London by Saturday.”

The Agency swallowed the story and he breathed a sigh of relief. At last he had a job after a dry period which had lasted too long. Rent was due; Car payments; alimony and assorted debts were piling up.

He grabbed the first plane out to Malaga and met up with an ex-marine, living on the coast, that same evening. This guy, Eric, was a useful contact because he dabbled in a lot of schemes and did favours for old friends. Kemp reckoned he rated as an old friend, if he paid enough.

“I need a little helper,” he said. Eric stepped down from the bar and beckoned him into a room at the back. Opening a drawer, he unwrapped an Italian copy of a Browning 9 mm. Kemp checked the action and nodded. The price was a crime but he paid it, knowing the client would meet all expenses if the job turned out well. He loaded it and stuffed into his belt at the middle of his back.

It took him most of the morning to identify the villa where the target lived and now he was in place, he had to make a decision on what to do.

“Don’t harm my daughter,” the client told him, “Just give ’em a scare and make sure he shits himself and drops her.”

Kemp thought; “Who’d have thought it! An oligarch who complains if his daughter living in sin!”

The instructions were crystal and Kemp saw no problem acting the hard man in front of some Spanish gigolo. However, he hadn’t reckoned on the hired help, who seemed serious, if a bit slack.

How many were there? He moved to a better position where the house itself could be seen. The villa seemed a grandiose affair with a pool and tennis courts laid alongside. He hoped to way-lay a car as it turned out of the drive but now the presence of the man in the cheap suit had to be taken into consideration.

As he approached, a big flat top truck pulled out at speed into the road. It set off towards Malaga, but screeched to a stop after a hundred yards and went into high reverse coming for him. There was no time to get back to the car, so Kemp aimed his automatic at the rear tyre on the near side. He pumped four shots in that direction until the tyre exploded with a satisfying bang and the truck began to veer across the black top.  Then it span out of control turning over and over with its momentum. It ended upside down. The body of a man had been flung out into the road. It was the minder in the cheap suit. He lay awkwardly like doll thrown down by a spiteful child.  He never moved and Kemp realized he was dead.

The noise of the crash and the gunfire was bound to bring action from the house so Kemp darted down the drive running low, to take anyone by surprise. The first person he met, an old Spanish gardener, looked at him in wonder. Kemp ran past him to reach the portico of the house itself.

Moving at full speed up the steps, he cannoned into a young woman carrying a suitcase. She fell sprawling across the floor and he slid on his back along the shiny marble for some way.

Before he was able to get up, a large man grabbed his arms and pinned him down.

“Let him go!” said the girl as she climbed to her feet and brushed herself down.

Kemp recognized her from a photo he had been given, It was the client’s daughter. He got to his feet as best he could with the big man holding his wrist.

The photo had not done her justice. It showed a pretty girl with long blonde hair and a good figure. The reality was a stunning, lively woman with deep blue eyes and lips like ripe cherries. Dressed in some elegant summer suit, it covered her curves but helped his imagination work overtime. Her hair, pulled back in a plain style, shone with the glow of natural blonde and glistened in the cool shade. For a moment, Kemp was speechless.

“What have you done to Carlo?”  She asked, “What has happened?”

Her eyes narrowed as she questioned him but he still thought they were the most stunning eyes he’d ever seen.

The answer became obvious as soon as the big man searched him; the 9mm fell out of his pocket where he had stuffed it on his run to the house. The large man growled and flung Kemp down again.

“Wait!” Kemp raised a hand in protest, “Listen, I’ve been sent to protect you. Your father sent me to warn you about the risks if you travel to Paris in the next few days.”

He made it up on the spur of the moment since he could hardly tell her the real reason.

She said “What trouble? If there’s trouble he would have rung me or e mailed?”

“No! He sent me ‘cos his communication centre is hacked or maybe hacked.”

He was getting deeper into the lies and began to worry where it would lead.

“Never heard of any fackin’ Communication Centre,” grunted the giant man and he gripped Kemp even harder.

“Why would he tell you?”  Kemp said, “You the brains of his Empire?”

“Let him up and bring him to Tony.”

She turned and walked onto the shaded terrace which overlooked the pool and tennis court. She sat and took off her jacket. Her tanned shoulders and plunging neckline drew his gaze like a magnet.

“I had to shoot,” Kemp said, “He tried to run me down.  So I shot his tyres out.”

The old gardener climbed up the sloping drive and spoke in Spanish to the woman. Plainly, he was explaining what had happened in the road and she questioned him closely. Kemp noted her mood relaxed a little.

Within a few minutes, a man appeared in a yellow silk shirt and cream linen trousers. He was tall and dark with a slim moustache and a mane of black hair tied into a ponytail. He looked at Kemp like a cobra examining a rabbit and it was all Kemp could do to hold his gaze.

“What’s all this about Paris?” he demanded, “Why shouldn’t she travel?”

“Why should I tell you?” said Kemp, “I’m here to protect her.”

He nodded in her direction.

“Tony,” the girl put her arm on the man’s sleeve,” I can’t take a chance. I’m staying here until this is sorted out.”

The man frowned, “Look, it’s all set up. I can’t back out now.”

She shrugged. “Well that’s up to you, but I’m staying.”

There was firmness in her voice which Kemp liked. She was no bimbo; she knew her own mind.

“Well what about the money?” Tony asked

“I’ll authorize the bank, so don’t fret. The money will be available.”

He was about to protest but then he looked at Kemp and the gorilla man and decided to keep his own counsel.

He turned to the big man and ordered him to sort out the truck and the body before the Guardia got involved. It was obvious he wanted to exert some authority even if she had decided what to do.

“Put him down in the cellars. We’ll sort this out later.”  The girl stepped in.

“No. I want to learn more about this and he’s come from Padre, so he can do his job, finally.”

She gave Kemp a shadow of a smile and he felt like a schoolboy at prize giving.

The big man shrugged and ambled off down the drive on his janitor duties.

The man Tony frowned but said nothing, and then aimed a kiss at her cheek and went down to the garage. Within a minute a Lamborghini roared down the drive and Tony was gone.

She turned to face Kemp and smiled.

“You don’t seem to know my name, yet you say that Father sent you?”

There was a serious edge to the query but still, there was warmth behind it.

“Look! I told a story to get by!”  He said, “Give me a break, I have a reason to be here but got tangled with your hired help, so told a few naughties.”

He smiled his best rueful grin but she stopped smiling.

“Go ahead then, what’s your game?”

He felt a twinge of sadness that this wonderful girl was such a realist. Even after two marriage disasters and a rowdy life, Kemp harboured just a smidgen of romance.

He told her the truth and waited for an explosion, but it never came.

She laughed and again the wonder of her smile enveloped him for an instant.

“My father is a teddy bear,” she said, “He’s only worried that his little girl can’t manage Tony and the boys by herself!  Poor little Melanie!”

Kemp was puzzled.

She went on. “The plan is to dump the partners in this scheme and Tony is one of them!”

A light began to glimmer in Kemp’s mind.

“You mean, you’re not going to finance this deal for him? What will happen to him?”

“You guess! French suppliers will be displeased, I shouldn’t wonder, and Tony is toast.”

“So I’m a patsy too!”  Kemp was beginning to work it out.

“No you’re not,” she laid a hand on his arm, “the only thing is, you have to protect me if anyone comes to collect. You told me lies, so now you can earn your fees!” She laughed again but it didn’t seem so amusing.

That night, the dark seemed alive. Dusk fell early and the moist air was filled with sounds, Cicadas clicked in every tree.   The lights on the porch were too bright, so he called to the big man Alfonso to switch them off. Now he could see the length of the drive and the road just outside the gate. Any car coming down the road would show up, unless they did what he had done and left a car further up the road. That thought kept tapping at the back of his mind.

Alfonso patrolled the grounds every half hour while Kemp set up an observation post up on the roof. He blessed the Spanish custom of roof top laundry space; it gave him a perfect location to check the front of the villa and the gate area.

Melanie had found a hunting rifle and ammunition in Tony’s dressing room and Kemp was glad to have something meaty to help out.

They waited.

Circumstantial Evidence

A hush fell on the Court as the Prosecution Q. C. rose to cross- examine. He pulled his silken gown around him and looked across the court.  James Comyn was a thin man with a large head. He stood with his shoulders hunched and reminded one of a predatory bird – perhaps a hawk or a kite.

Across the well of Court One, the Defendant stood tall in the witness box. His fair hair and blue eyes caught the light from the high windows of Old Bailey in London. Gavin Somerset had been accused of the murder of Lord Gower, his father in law.

Upon the body of the dead man was an important piece of evidence: a fragment of a typed letter with the words:

“..and misfortunately, we have lost everything…”

The first question seemed harmless. What was behind it? “Did you lose your parents when very young?”

“That’s correct.”

“And it caused you much distress?” “Yes”

The cross-examination continued on the same theme: “When you were twenty one, did you suffer an accident?” “True. I was ski-ing in Verbier and broke a leg.”

The defendant, Somerset grew in confidence as he related past events.

“What was the reason for the accident?”

The calm quiet manner of the query had the jury straining to catch the question.

An elderly man at the back leant forward and cupped his ear.

“Well, I suppose it must have been my own fault,” – then he interjected -” but that was years ago! I don’t see how it relates to this case.”

Comyn paused to see if there was any legal objection.

There was none. Henry Pitcher, for the Defence, saw no harm in the line of questioning, although far from the facts in the case. His instincts told him to save his ammunition for more serious objections.

The questioning went on; he persisted in querying other mishaps during the young man’s life, dwelling on his bad luck andmisfortune. Pitcher began to feel uneasy. It seemed as if the questions were  sympathising with the Defendant, almost sharing his misfortunes. His instincts told him there was danger ahead, but what could it be?

Then Comyn turned to his vast unpaid debts. Somerset’s bank account showed the money passing out into casino hands.

At last, he turned to his relationship with his father-in -law. “Did you realize Lord Gower might have cleared your huge debts with a stroke of his pen?”

“I suppose so, but I didn’t approach him.” “Why not?”

“Because the old man would never do it! He loathed me for gambling his daughter’s dowry away. -But that was our money not his. She didn’t care”

His eyes blazed defiance at the thin bewigged figure across the width of the court.

“How did you feel about his attitude?”

Again, the tone of reasonable enquiry seemed more like an interview with a friendly doctor rather than a deadly prosecutor.

The earlier questions had been kindly put, so the defendant was eager to build on the apparent sympathy between them.

“He was nothing to me.”

“Then why did you visit him on the day he died?”

Just for a moment, Somerset blinked. The jury leant forward, aroused from torpor. Even the Old Bailey ushers paused and listened.

“I went to collect some items from the house that belonged to me.” “What items?”

“Just some clothes and effects I had left from previous visits.”

“Why not send a servant for this task?”

Somerset smiled at the jury. “I can do simple tasks myself. Besides, I knew where the things were.”

He was gaining confidence with every question. “Did you find them?”

“Mis-fortunately, I could not find them all.”

A gasp swept across the courtroom. The jury turned to each other and Comyn smiled briefly. It took a few seconds for Somerset to grasp what he had blurted out.

“That is to say, I couldn’t find everything but it was no great loss…”

James Comyn took up the letter exhibited and read again the quote from the murderer.

“”Tell the jury why you truly went to Lord Gower’s house at such an hour?”

“Why do you keep asking about that visit? I’ve told you why I went and that is enough!”

Red in the face with rage, Somerset gripped the edge of the witness box and glared down at the barrister.

Comyn remained silent for a few seconds – the clock on the wall ticked ponderously in the small silence.

“This was your letter and murder was your mission that night!” The bravado of the man was snatched away in one instant.

He had no words to combat the truth. His body sagged with despair and he muttered some denial which nobody could catch.

Henry Pitcher was like a stone statue, he betrayed not the slightest sign of the effect this had upon him. One word had convicted his client. He asked several harmless questions in re -examination, but nothing could be done.

The jury retired at 3 .00 p.m. and returned at 3.30.

The foreman, a thin grey man stood to give the verdict. “How do you find the Defendant? Guilty or Not Guilty?” He paused and faced the man in the dock. “Guilty.”

Somerset sobbed; not from remorse but from the horrible truth that he had betrayed himself.

Comyn scribbled on his brief and looked away from the dock while the Defendant was taken down. Henry Pitcher leant across the barrister’s row and patted him lightly on the shoulder.

Then he turned to his junior “Time for a drink I suppose?

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