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The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 24 - Intercedere pro me Peccatore...

Intercedere pro me Peccatore... The silence in the room was absolute. Jeanne looked at her hands. The question was, had she over played her hand, or was he still on the hook. The next hour would tell. Her arm grew stiff and she shifted slightly. Françoise looked up, disturbed from her own thoughts - had she given Jeanne enough ammunition to ensnare this worldly priest? Cagliostro alone was relaxed. He watched his companions, and noted the anxious exchange of looks between the women. His thoughts, ran to the money, how much further could he press his backers? It was a high stakes game, but how high? When could he tell them the fish was in play, and soon they would strike? The fire crackled and a log toppled from the flames. Françoise leaped forward to usher it back, and they all wondered if that was a good sign or ill? The Italian cleared his throat. “It’s a good sign.” And he grinned, eyeing the other two, and Jeanne laughed, Françoise smiled. “How did you know, that was what I was thinking?” Jeanne asked. “We were all thinking?” echoed Françoise. “It was inevitable. This is the point it can go badly wrong, the first time. If it does, we will be angry and upset and frustrated. But, it isn’t particularly dangerous, with regard to the authorities. Our investors, on the other hand, might cut up nasty, but I don’t think so, yet.” “You think it becomes more dangerous later?” Françoise suggested. “Certainly. If it goes wrong past this point, we may all be caught, and as the game proceeds the penalty becomes greater. We are sitting here, hoping we get the chance to play, perhaps we should be hoping, we don’t.” “For my part, I am fixed on my course, any other, will be short and messy and less satisfactory. But if others,” she turned to Françoise, “wish to withdraw, I will not point fingers or hold any grudge.” “Me? I haven’t had so much fun, ever. I know it might go… wrong. But I reckon, every now and again, fortune smiles… and you never know.” Jeanne sighed and relaxed, evidently Françoise staying in, mattered more to her than she’d said. A noise and they looked at the door. It swung back and la Motte stood there, in a new uniform. His smile suggested, he was a little worse for wear. He raised his hand and bowed. “Ladies and gentleman, I stand before you a, consecrated mind you, officer, in the the service of the Comte d’Artois, and five livres poorer than I went out. But, fifty livres per year, richer.” The ladies stood and applauded. The news they had been waiting for. It meant the Cardinal had taken the risk, and passed the word on to his friend, Artois. For better or worse, they were now on the inside. “Excellent. We must now get this letter off to his Eminence.” Cagliostro looked it over. “Jeanne, it says - you thank him profusely for his help, unlooked for, and you ask to see him to make an act of confession.” Jeanne smiled, “Appropriate. I haven’t been since some time before Marie-Ann, met his Eminence.” “Oh, you go to confession?” Françoise asked. “Of course. I am a sinner. No?” “But do you tell them… “ and she waved her hand in the air. Jeanne smiled sweetly. “What, you want me to break the seal of the confessional? For shame, Françoise.” “There will be no need to run you through your paces, as to the formalities of the sacrement, then?” Cagliostro asked. “The nuns leave their mark monsieur. Some things are never forgotten.” “Such as sins, madame?” La Motte asked. “Other’s sins, certainly not. My own? That, is what confession is for.” Cagliostro frowned, still worried about the tension between his two main players. He tapped the letter on the table. “First thing in the morning, I’ll get this round to his Eminence’s apartments, we will know how keen he is by the speed of reply.” As it turned out, the Cardinal seemed to take the mater, of the forgiveness of sins very seriously indeed, and suggested that very afternoon. Cagliostro was impressed. “What did you say to him, my dear?” “Say? Nothing. I did smile at him though.” La Motte made a vulgar guffaw which produced a punch on the shoulder from Françoise. Jeanne looked him up and down, before turning back to Cagliostro. “I think a man’s imagination, is probably more powerful than anything I could have said or done.” “True.” “So long as that imagined tryst, in the Cardinal’s mind isn’t better than the actual event, when it happens, eh madame?” La Motte observed. “We can only try, and success will be a function of the quality of my teachers. Is that not so sir?” “Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it has been a month since my last confession.” “Yes, my child, and what minor transgressions might you have committed in that time?” “Father, I have taken the Lord’s name in vain, and I had unkind thoughts about my maid, when she dropped a cup the other day…” The Cardinal waited. He waited a little longer, and supposing this confessor had reached the end… “For these and all my sins…” “No Eminence, I have more… I have, in the last few days committed a much more grave sin.” He shifted in his seat. “Child, I hardly think that you…” “But Eminence, I have.” “What is it then?” He said it in as kindly a voice as he could muster, his hand resting on the top of the kneeler, at which Jeanne attended this sacrement in his rooms. “Eminence, I have had lustful thoughts. I don’t know what or how, I’ve never had this sort of thing….” “Child, I hear many such confessions, it is of no matter to me. Go on.” “I fear to be the occasion of sin for another.” “Adultery. That would be more serious, but not something uncommon in this wicked world.” He controlled his urge, simply to grab her. “It is worse than just that, this person is, he is a man of the cloth Eminence.” “I see…” A silence followed. Jeanne risked a nervous look, and found the Cardinal had several beads of perspiration on his forehead. She kept looking at him and he eventually turned away. She nodded, fearfully. He seemed to melt. He thought he was playing the game very well, soon he would have her... “Oh child. It could not be, in your circumstances… I think, we might… yes, instruction… to save... Let me grant you absolution, and we might talk this over a little more comfortably.” He raised his hand in blessing, “Misereatur tui ominipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis…”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 23- The Counsellor

The Counsellor It was some days later when the invitation came. Jeanne fretted, had she not been beguiling enough? La Motte, thought himself too intimidating. Cagliostro, who had also been in attendance, and had, by all accounts, chiefly those of Françoise his companion, believed they'd caught him, and was content to wait. The letter, was itself a piece of magnificent theatre. The finest parchment, the most florid penmanship, the loudest seal. Jeanne, la Motte, Cagliostro and Françoise were all there, when the Italian prised open the seal. Unfolding the letter he looked round them all with a satisfied smile before reading. “Good, very good… oh even better.” La Motte rolled his eyes and leaned forward, “Are we to be treated to a commentary on your feelings, or the contents of the letter?” he asked. Smiling again the Italian looked up. “There’s nothing like a bit of dramatic tension, to improve the reception of the work, monsieur.” There was a general murmur of dissatisfaction and he held up his hand, “Alright, his Eminence, is inviting the Comtesse, note not the couple, to an afternoon of counsel and prayer, due to his great concern over the state of her marriage.” “Is that, good?” Françoise asked. “Oh yes, he is hungry, but circumspect. He has made, I should say, certain enquiries and his limited sources, have given him to understand the contessa is genuinely devout.” “How do you know? He can’t say that, surely.” La Motte asked. Cagliostro smiled, “His limited sources. Now, whom do you think…?” “You?” Jeanne straightened. “If we are to catch him, we must surround him. He has no reliable connection with the court, so we have supplied one. With it, a filter of the information he is told. None of it false. But, it is a picture of a world we wish him to see and, as it happens, it is one he wants to see as well.” “Is there a date for this invitation?” La Motte asked. “Indeed, in two days time. We shall send a reply, and prepare for the next step.” Arriving at his Eminence’s apartments two days later, Jeanne was the epitome of innocent temptation. She was dressed simply, in pale green silk and her hair was as natural as fashion would allow, gathered behind her head with a bow. At her neck a small gold cross. Unlike on her sister’s visit, Jeanne was not kept waiting but brought straight in, to find the Cardinal reading his daily office, by a large window. His usual man waited at the door, with today a matronly maid at his side. Upon her entrance, the Cardinal stood immediately, and almost rushed across the room to greet Jeanne. Holding out his ring to be kissed, he was slowed by Jeanne’s hesitancy. She curtsied, and touched the ring to her lips, looking up at him as she did so. He swallowed. “Madame, I have been so concerned since the other evening, it is all I have thought about.” “I am sorry Eminence, to have been the occasion of interference in your religious devotions.” “Ah, no madame, it was through my devotion that I was able to relieve my concern. Come please sit. Will you take some refreshment? A little wine.” “I do not drink alcohol, Eminence. Perhaps a little tea, if you have it?” “I do, madame, of course.” And he snapped his fingers at the servants. Jeanne followed his Eminence over to the window, where two chairs were arranged around a small occasional table. They sat. His eminence removed a rosary from his pocket and began to finger the beads. The tea arrived with a small plate of petit-fours, the maid poured and they, both man and maid, retired. Jeanne sipped the very hot tea. His Eminence coughed. “Madame, might I enquire, the difficulties between yourself and your husband? I do not mean to pry, in a prurient way, but if I am to offer the assistance I so ardently wish to do, I need to know. All of Paris is talking of your… disagreement in Troyes.” Jeanne teared up a little, “Oh sir, I did not know… does the whole world know our business then?” “Not the detail, merely the fact of a young and troubled marriage.” “The fault is mine, Eminence. I am too young, too unknowing of the ways of the the world.” “But, this is as it should be madame, what a husband should desire in a virtuous wife.” “He does not. He wants for a wife, one more knowing than I.” “I don’t know what to say, madame. I think there are women aplenty in Paris who would oblige a man, but not so many who possess your virtue. Perhaps you could enquire of one of these ladies…” “I am afraid that would ruin my husband’s reputation, he would or I might, become the subject of gossips and humour.” “You need a discreet instructor then.” “In these delicate matters, whom can a woman trust?” “Well let us think. Now, your husband, he is a Comte, but only in His Majesty’s Gendarmes, could that be right?” “Indeed Eminence.” “And that means he is around Paris most of the time?” “All of the time, Eminence.” He sat back in his seat and ran the beads between his fingers. He thought now he had only to reach out his hand… but this could be delightful, a willing pupil to corrupt, and so well constructed. He caught her look, and quickly pulled himself together. “Madame, I have a friend…” “Oh, Eminence, I cannot be passed round like…” and she held out her hand to the plate of petit-fours. “No, you misunderstand, my friend, the Comte d’Artois, he has a regiment, I believe I can get your husband commissioned in his service, it would mean, his leaving Paris, for days at a time. It would give you some time, alone, to reflect. And more income too I think.” “I see, Eminence, and I might have the chance to find a discreet confidant…?” “I think, with some thought, you might, madame. Yes indeed, God inspired, you might say.” She looked at him with eyes that he hoped spoke of more than mere lust. It was a strange mix that he felt, of benevolence and desire, teacher and corrupter, shepherd and wolf.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 22 - The Masque

The Masque Though he attended the first masque of the season in Strasbourg, the Cardinal left early. His disappointment, at the absence of the lady, surprised him. It also whetted his appetite. Enquiry revealed that the Comte and Comtesse had returned to Paris. Their planned stay had been cut short, a rumoured difference in perspective between the couple. Interesting. He sent his man to make further enquiry into this couple, and the story became, even more interesting. It was revealed, she was freshly married. After that happy event, the couple had discovered certain differences, the whisper was, they sprang from the marital bed. He licked his lips as his man told him this, no wonder the woman already looked abroad, if her husband was an oaf in bed. He ordered his household to prepare to return to Paris, where he thought he might try snare this beauty. Back in Paris, Jeanne and la Motte were having supper. They had taken the most direct route to the capitol, to be sure they would not be overtaken, and the trip was exhausting. Neither liked long distances in coaches, few did. It had turned cold and wet on their way, and the roads were the worse for it. La Motte insisted on boring her, with questions about how you could move armies on such roads, as though she cared. Supper was welcome, but Jeanne’s stomach would still need a while to settle down. The broth helped. In spite of the dull conversation, they had developed a civil working relationship on the journey, and, she felt, they would be able to pull this off, if everything else went as they hoped. But he was disturbingly volatile. In gaps between diatribes about armies, they discussed the events in Strasbourg. They both agreed the Cardinal was tickled by the bait. La Motte was much more sure of this than Jeanne, but in any event this fish would need careful play. Jeanne was worried about his experience. Françoise, had found out much, but not everything, and instruct her as she might, there was nothing like being in the saddle, to understand how to control the mount. La Motte, had been oddly reticent about getting involved in this. Jeanne was disappointed, she had been counting on him to find out what worked, and what was a waste of time. He said, tastes were too individual for him to be able to express an opinion, and stormed off. His moods varied, between enthusiastic help, and sullen indifference. Jeanne, asked the ever helpful Françoise about it, but she was at a loss. Deciding to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, she indicated to Françoise that they should be left alone. Françoise duly made her excuses, and left. Silence as far as conversation was concerned. Sounds of spoon scraping and broth drinking, indicated someone was in the room, but not much else. Jeanne cleared her throat, but la Motte didn’t look up. She stopped eating and just waited. Finally, that seemed to work and he looked up, and then straight down. She sighed, and tapped the end of her spoon on the table, trying to think of how to open the conversation. It was that, that got to him, he frowned and eyed, first the spoon, and then Jeanne. They examined each other, she frustrated, he disconsolate. “We cannot go on like this Monsieur.” “Like…” “Don’t say, ‘like what’, I do not think you are so lacking in sensibility, that you do not know what you’ve been like.” He bent down and lifted his spoon, and she thought he was going to start eating again, but he stopped and faced her. “What else is there?” “We are supposed to be conspirators, in what is after all, a pretty desperate enterprise.” “We are. I am doing everything I can to ensure you get your chance to be close to the Cardinal. To bed him, to draw him to his own destruction.” “I need more help, you know that.” “Ask.” She threw her eyes to heaven, and then back at him. He shook his head, then surprised her. “Give it up.” “What? I don’t understand.” “Stop it, walk away. We can just leave. You don’t need to do it, it won’t do any good anyway. It’s like these stupid duels the ‘gentlemen’ fight, for their supposed honour. All theatre and front, at best they have a scar and a story about their bravery, at worst someone is dead and another exiled. Honour? Never worth it. It’s a myth men talk about when they’ve done nothing worth doing in their lives. And the price is never theirs to pay, always some innocent. Walk away. We can take your sister with us, see the Americas, make a fortune. Europe’s finished anyway.” She was struck dumb for a moment, and struggled to find the words she never thought she would ever need to say to la Motte, of all people. “Honour is all they give women, that and children I suppose. If you are defenceless, poor, pious, they have told you again and again, that your entire value to the world, is contained in that word. When it’s gone you’re nothing. Your honour, as a woman is further bound to virginity outside of marriage, and fidelity inside it. Lose that, and you have to be very rich and well positioned, or very poor with no position at all, to avoid destruction. If you’re a woman, and you have no honour, you’re fair game to any man who fancies his chances. You have to be tough, like Françoise, to survive and she has her father and the inn behind her. Marie-Ann, had nothing, and with what she has been taught, year after year, by the sisters, de Rohan took away even her connection with God.” “But, will this change that or leave her on her own?” “It will show her that even a Cardinal, cannot escape retribution, when he steps over the line. I’m not doing this to restore honour, the way I could if I were a man. What’s done is done, she is ruined, at least in her own eyes. I am doing this to take from the Cardinal, his honour.” “And us?” “Us? You walked away when you thought your honour besmirched by a woman with a pistol. Had I been the lad you supposed, you would have thought me a rascal, and gotten drunk with me.” “I’m sorry, I was caught unaware.” “You can make it up to me by helping me do this.” “I cannot stop you?” Slowly she shook her head. He looked at his cold soup and pushed the bowl away unhappily. He nodded. “Alright, I’ll do it, but don’t expect me to be happy.” “Oh come sir, we can have a little fun surely, and your lessons so far have not been unhappy.” He smiled. “They have not.” She stood and he followed and… Two days later. It is the afternoon of the Masque they have chosen, to make their entrance. At this time, Paris, is a round of Masques and spectacles. The extravagance of these entertainments, set against a background of increasing poverty and some desperation in the City of Paris itself, was part of the sickness, that in a short time will explode in revolution. For now, beginning in mid november, but really taking off after Christmas, celebration and carnival ruled. Some were private, but others, given three times a week by the Opera, were more accessible, and as a result more crowded. Having been assured of the Cardinal’s presence, it was one of the Saturday evening events they had picked, to continue their hunt. Appropriately enough, it was as Artemis, Jeanne had chosen to dress that evening, but because it was a new moon, her whole costume was black. “Will you wear make up, Jeanne?” Françoise asked as she finished her hair. Jeanne looked at her through the mirror, her worry changing to sudden panic. “I didn’t think to ask, I’ve never worn it, never had the money. Do you think everyone will be made up? They will be, of course they will. Oh God, it’s a disaster, I’m going to look ridiculous.” La Motte came through the door just as she finished her sentence. “What?” He was met with two worried faces, as they women turned. “Make up, should she be made up? Will everyone else be made up?” Françoise asked. La Motte walked over and stared down. “Look, most of the other women will be made up, because most of them have to be. If you’re going to be Artemis, then the younger you look the better. Goddesses don’t need make up.” The women turned looking for support in the face of the other but found uncertainty. Jeanne shook her head. “What would you know.” He took a step back and smiled, “I know you will be wearing a mask. I know that it will be very warm. I know that most of the competition will be old hands…” he shrugged and smiled, “so to speak. And I know, that the Cardinal likes ‘em young.” Françoise smiled and nodded, “He’s right.” Jeanne thought about it, and then agreed, “Alright, you get the points for that one. No make up, and we’ll show the old hags how to do it.” The route to the Opera was more frightening than Jeanne had anticipated, and she was very glad, both for the carriage and la Motte’s reassuring size. The streets were, while not being clogged, that would happen later in the season, yet they were full of people enjoying the beginning of carnival. The vulgar ‘chienlits’ and the ordinary drunks, mingled and fought, sang and caroused in a manner to shock the pious, and frighten the uninitiated. For all of her adventuring around nighttime Paris, this was new to Jeanne. As they reached their destination, things calmed down a little. The entry price, at four livres a ticket, was high enough to keep the rabble out. This made the masque safer, but, as the decade wore on, a target for the poor, the starving and the angry. They entered a maelstrom of activity. Each evening was themed and the entertainment provided by the Opera was lavish, as well as masterful. Singers wandered about creating the appearance of a flash mob, as they would coagulate and sing, and then wander away until the next song. The orchestra and dancing was as refined, as the behaviour of the party-goers was crude. It did not take long for la Motte to spot the Cardinal, his arm around one woman and his hand invisible in the costume of a second. Jeanne was led to intersect his Eminence’ path and he recognised her instantly. His companions were rudely dropped, and he stepped in front of her. “Madame.” He bowed. In his case, a slight bend at where one might suppose his waist should be. “Dance?” “Eminence.” She curtsied and they began. “Even masked you stand out from everyone here, madame, even as you did in Strasbourg.” “In Strasbourg Eminence? I am surprised and flattered, to be remembered.” “It is the flattery with which you must be accustomed, madame, I cannot imagine it otherwise. Who accompanies you this evening?” he asked. “My husband.” And she pointed at la Motte who was dancing with a larger, older, ball attendee. “Ah madame, is he the Comte de la Motte.” “And I the Comtesse, Eminence.” He nodded. “I have heard… things madame.” “Things, Eminence?” “Of your marriage, madame.” “Only good I hope.” “Some poetic, some mundane.” Jeanne covered her face with her mask and the conversation stopped for the the moment. The dance continued, she could feel him waiting, he had plotted this conversation many times she thought. Eventually, “I have some experience, madame, in marital difficulties.” And, at her look of surprise, “The solving of them, I mean.” Again, Jeanne raised the mask to her face. The Cardinal frowned. They continued in silence. He took the risk. “Madame, we could go somewhere more amenable to conversation, I have apartments nearby.” She looked up at him, a little shocked, and looked away, the picture of demure youth, it was all he could do, not to reach out and take her. She felt his hunger. She turned and saw la Motte looking across at her. “Eminence, my husband calls me.” “Another time, madame.” She curtsied and turned away immediately. He gave another of his slight bows to her retreating figure, his eyes following, devouring, needing her. Until they reached the watching la Motte, who smiled and held out his arm to his wife, and swept her away into the crowd. The Cardinal did not see her again, that evening.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 21 - Communion

Communion Mass on Saint Stephen’s day, the cathedral, Strasbourg. The Cardinal is concelebrating mass, for the great and supposed good, in the tallest building in the world. The choir is in full voice, the space, one of the largest outside of Paris, is packed, but for the more comfortable area, occupied by the creme de la creme. Among whom, of course, the Comte and Comtesse de la Motte. That wonderful lubricant, money, had managed to place the couple, not in the front rank of worshipers, but in a prominent position in the second row. Jeanne, dressed in red, her hair, her own and not piled high, is covered with a black mantilla with a white, virtually transparent, collar covering her shoulders. She would be among those receiving communion from the Cardinal’s own hands. They had made the three day journey to Strasbourg in stages, stopping for a short while in Reims and then Nancy, before spending the last few days in Strasbourg itself. They had attended Midnight mass on Christmas eve, and then mass again at eleven on Christmas day. In both of these instances they were discreet, from the point of view of society and the Cardinal, virtually invisible. Not so on the 26th. As the feast of the first martyr, Jeanne had thought it appropriate to begin their project on this particular day. She also thought this shade of red, liturgically correct for the day, suited her. She did not think many other ladies would dare it. She was right. The row in front of her emptied as the gentlemen and ladies of Strasbourg, went up for communion. The Cardinal stood in the centre of the chancel, with the line of the high folk passing smoothly in front of him, while he fed them the body of Christ. Front row done, the second row followed. It was not unusual for the Cardinal to serve two or even three rows of worshipers, but it was not normal either. Today, a martyr’s day but not Christmas or Easter, Pentecost or the Ascension, it had been assumed he would stop shortly after the first row, allowing his concelebrants to finish, even as they were serving on either side of him, the larger part of the congregation. While trying not to make it too obvious, he might just have been awaiting that lady in the red dress. Jeanne, arrived in front of him and knelt, leaning forward, hands joined in supplication to the Lord, and perhaps to God. The Cardinal, leaned toward her, he had to as she was lower than most, and he drank in her perfume. As he reached out with the host she looked up and her eyes met his, the impact on him almost a blow. He tripped over his words, words he had said numerous times every day of his life, since he was fourteen. “Crops…Corpus Christi.” “Amen.” And she was gone. Then there was some fellow in front of him, waiting, as the Cardinal’s eyes followed Jeanne to her seat. She knelt, the picture of devotional piety. The man coughed, and his Eminence glared, but remembered himself, and served once more. He served half a row after that, as much to watch this woman, as to cover the fact of his watching. Walking back to his throne at the alter, he bent to the alter boy at his side and said something. The alter boy turned away, and headed for the vestry. The choir continued their exquisite singing, the Cardinal folded his hands inside his sleeves and sat, brooding over how he might get this woman to one of the many masked balls that would be held in Strasbourg or Paris, over the coming weeks. He turned round in his seat looking for the boy. Impatient for an answer, he had sent him to find out her name, and from where she had sprung. By the time the boy was back his mood was anxious and, well, less than that of the temperate Christian. But, there was an answer. His Eminence, sat back in his throne and smiled, and the wheels turned, and he thought he might find a way. Worship over, the congregation poured out onto the square in front of the the cathedral. There, hundreds of horses waited, all groomed to the highest standard available to their owners, for the blessing given each year on this day. The crowd thinned, but still many stayed to watch. The parade in front of the Cardinal would be fine. Individual horses and teams pulling carriages. Farm horses and city dray horses, all looking their best and, as luck would have it the sun was out. Children ran around the square, freed from the harsh confines of churchly behaviour, adults spoke in groups comparing their christmas days and sharing hopes for the new year. Whispering still, about the loss of two weeks of their lives, just a few years earlier when the country moved to the new calendar, and its consequent effect on weather and daylight norms. A hush descended as the Cardinal appeared. Dressed now in his most formal outdoor vestments, his red hat accompanying the red chasuble, he held an aspergillum ready to sprinkle the horses as he blessed them with holy water. The parade began. Horses passed, as had the congregation at mass, in preordained sequence. The most important citizens and religious orders, then the guilds, in order of precedence, and finally, Jacques citizen with his own horse. Some are ridden, teams driven, and some led if they become skittish. In the sun even the most humble of polished bridles, shine, and make for a fine spectacle. The Cardinal paid unusual attention this year, though in truth this was one of the jobs he quite enjoyed, if the sun shone. But he was looking out for the carriage which would carry, that woman. The boy had told him she would pass with her husband, a guest of one of the guilds, the man’s arms would be on the vehicle, and that would tell him much. He spotted the carriage, and was a little distracted as he waited, but continued to bless the passing herd. Then, it was in front of him, and she was sitting forward. He fancied their eyes met, he thought a small connection. He was sufficiently experienced, to know he might easily deceive himself about a thing like that, but was romantic enough to want it to be true. So caught up in the brief exchange was he, that he forgot to look at the arms on the door of the coach. Had he noticed, it might have been a little new? But then, he told himself, every thing looked new on a day like this.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 20 - Return to Paris

Return to Paris Françoise sat on the bed beside Jeanne, saying nothing. Jeanne appeared, somewhere between the fury she’d seen in la Motte’s eyes, and just upset. Françoise tried to think of what to say, when it became plain Jeanne would say nothing. “So, not acting?” she tried. Jeanne stared at her making Françoise wince. For reply, Jeanne slowly turned her head from side to side. “Why? I mean, you don’t have to say, if it’s too painful…” Jeanne reached out with her toe and prodded the pistol, just visible beneath a couple of shoes. “Shoes? You didn’t…” “No, the pistol.” Jeanne said quietly. “The pistol.” Jeanne nodded, again slowly. “Did he try shoot you?” Jeanne frowned and turned to Françoise. “Hardly. It’s mine. We’ve met before, I mean, before we met at the Italian’s place.” Jeanne continued quietly. “Where? He never mentioned it, I’m sure he would have. I don’t understand why the pistol would matter.” “In a jeweller’s shop, in Paris.” Françoise’s turn to frown, thinking. Suddenly her head jerked up, and there was a very sharp intake of breath. Her head snapped round, mouth covered in shock. “You!” Jeanne, now prodding the pistol repeatedly with her toe, simply nodded. “No! He said it was a boy. How? He must be confused, we can get him back explain…” But Jeanne shock her head. “No, no confusion. He thought I was a boy. I was dressed like a boy.” Jeanne faced Françoise and smiled ruefully. “It’s how I make my living, I steal things. Pretty things. I only take from those as can afford to lose what I take, and I never take too much.” “That’s how you stayed a virgin. I presumed…” “So did everyone else, it seems. I thought I was the cleverest thing. Turns out, I’m just differently stupid.” “I think you’re pretty damn clever. Wow! You steal things. By the blessed… so what happened?” “He walked in on me, while I was stealing the necklace.” “The necklace? The one he tried to steal?” “Yes. The one he tried to steal. Only, this one was real. I had checked it, and had just tucked it away when I heard him, the great galute.” “And that was when the pistol?” Jeanne slowly agreed, and bending down, picked it up. She turned it over in her hand several times. Françoise watched her. “It looks very small.” She said. Jeanne smiled, “It is. Hardly any use at all. A stout belt would stop it, or a distance of ten yards. But it’s very quiet, and it will do more than enough damage, if you get shot in the eye at six inches.” “You were that close?” “We were.” “But you wouldn’t have?” “I would.” She shrugged. “Of course I would. Probably wouldn’t have killed him… probably.” “But you didn’t. “ “No. I didn’t.” Jeanne sighed. It was hard to know if that was regret at not having killed him, or it having happened at all. Françoise shook her head in disbelief. She laughed. “After you told me… you know, I thought you were the sweetest thing, so innocent. I was going to have words with the Italian, and tell him to get you out of it.” Jeanne smiled and faced her, “Not now?” “Not now. La Motte, told me about that evening. That you left him for the night watch.” “He broke the rope trying to get away, before I came out from putting back the necklace. We had agreed we’d go together, but he tried to go first. I could never have pulled him up through the skylight.” “Sounds like him. He is very sweet, but not the most honourable. Had he know you were a girl…” “Woman.” “Sorry. Had he known, I think he might have behaved differently.” “Think.” Françoise shrugged. “He’s not dependable in that way.” “Will he see this through?” Françoise though about that and then, “I think so, it’s been worked out with the Italian, and there are others involved, he’d get a bad reputation if he walked away. He’ll get one, if it gets out you were the ‘lad’, who stitched him up.” “It won’t. Not from me anyway.” “Not from me either, though, I might mention it to him. He won’t say anything, you can be sure of that.” “That’s all that matters. Right. Would you help me, get my things in order?” Françoise smiled, “Love to Madame, more than ever.” They had returned to Paris, and Jeanne was installed in her new apartments for three days, by the time la Motte turned up, looking the worse for wear. When she’d arrived Cagliostro had congratulated her on the ‘performance’ in the bust up in Troyes. The musicians had made it the hot gossip round town. He was shocked to discover it had been real, and was very shocked, when Françoise painted in a bit more of the detail, though omitting the cause. Cagliostro fretted about the absence of his man. Jeanne could not attend any of the masques, without his arm being there for her to lean on. When he turned up, and Cagliostro saw the state he was in, he was both relieved and distressed. “But, look at your clothes, monsieur.” “What about them?” La Motte was edging towards sobriety, probably for the first time since he left Jeanne, and he was looking around the room, seeking the means to forestall that state, if he could. The Italian just sighed and turned round to Françoise who was caught somewhere between concern and laughter. Seeing her, he sighed again. “Would you mind organising a bath for him, and some clean clothes? Did you, by chance, bring the rest of his things from Troyes?” “Not by chance, monsieur, by design.” Jeanne answered. Françoise left, and Cagliostro smiled at Jeanne. He looked now at la Motte, appraising him up and down, the way one would a horse one fears was a bad deal. La Motte looked back defiantly, then began to sink into the chair he was leaning against, missed, and ended up sitting on the floor. He still tried for defiant, but got as far as forlorn. Jeanne sighed, echoing Cagliostro. “We can put him back together, but this thing between you, is it going to be a problem?” Jeanne eyed la Motte and looked back at Cagliostro, “Not on my part.” “Monsieur?” La Motte was sober enough still to be angry with Jeanne, and he looked her over before, in turn, facing Cagliostro. “I’ll work with her, there’s money in it after all.” Cagliostro faced him severely, “You will depend on each other a great deal, if we are to get out the other side of this, with the winnings, and our heads. We cannot be divided. If you are in any way half hearted, we should call it off. Are you in?” La Motte seemed to take another step toward sobriety, if not dignity, leaning as he was against the leg of a chair. “Yes, I’m in. You can depend upon it.” He said. “Good. We are all depending upon it, monsieur.” He turned again to face Jeanne, “And you madame, you are certain? I know, you know the stakes.” “I am absolutely certain, and I understand that for you, the motive is money, even if mine is not.” Satisfied, Cagliostro walked over to la Motte and held out his hand. The gendarme pulled himself up off the floor just as Françoise came back in. She noticed him rise and her eyes did a quick check, that there had not been some sort of fight. She grinned. “I have the bath, good and hot.” “Good. Jeanne, a dressmaker is coming round to meet with you after lunch. You sir, will come with me when you are ready, and we shall get you suitably dressed. Whatever the truth, this first part has gone admirably well, let us hope the Gods, who watch over us ordinary thieves, will keep watching. That way we might keep our heads.”

The Cardinal's Sin - Chapter 19 - Try to See it My Way

Try to see it my way La Motte examined the pistol carefully. He turned it, butt away, muzzle on and he looked down its length. This is how he first encountered the weapon. He thought long, longer than made his wife comfortable. He was back in that place, that evening, remembering, not the gun in particular, but the skylight. The feeling in his stomach as the cover slid across, and he realised he was on his own. At the time, he was straight into dealing with what had happened, and what he should do next, but now. He looked from the muzzle of the decorative piece, now noting just how decorative, to across the room, into those same eyes. Jeanne had seen the pistol slide away and had been about to ask him to throw it back, it wasn’t loaded after all, when she picked up something in his manner. In the Italian’s apartments she had seen who it was she trained the pistol on, straight away, but either he hadn’t recognised the pistol, or he didn’t care. Now, she knew at the very least, he recognised it here, and his careful demeanour suggested he might indeed care. He coloured. She coloured. He looked back at the pistol, just to be sure, and try to connect the sweet and enthusiastic lover he’d spent the last few nights with, and those hard eyes in the night. The body he’d seen disappear through the roof was certainly in evidence. “You!” “My pistol, if you please.” “It was you!” he repeated. Jeanne was now at an impasse, asking for the pistol would look like avoiding the question, but then, she wanted to avoid the question. “Yes, it was me. My pistol please.” He threw it at her, hard, aiming at her head. She caught it. If there is one thing more annoying than having someone throw something at you, it’s the other person catching it. She turned and began to put it away in its small case. “That’s it?” “What else?” she answered without looking back. “You might say ‘sorry’. It would be the very least.” “Sorry? What for?” “Leaving me like that, at the mercy of, who knew how many, night-watchmen .” “I knew you’d be fine. You’d tried to arrest me, remember? For all I knew it was a trick by some Gendarme Captain and his friends outside. I had a lot to lose.” “But you just left me. You closed me into the place so I couldn’t get out, and you walked away.” “What else could I have done? You broke the rope, or have you forgotten.” From the look on his face, perhaps he had forgotten that bit, “What was I going too do? Haul you through the skylight? Look at you and look at me, how likely do you think that was to work?” “But you didn’t even try.” “But you tried didn’t you? Before I got back. While I was sticking to my end of the deal, you tried to get away first, but you broke the rope. If the cabinets hadn’t been so high I would have been stuck there, caught like a rat in a trap.” “I was trying to get things ready so our escape would be smooth, if you must know. I thought we could team up.” “You tried to get away, and the rope gave when you put your weight against it.” “So that would have happened anyway, wouldn’t it.” “No, I would have gone first, yes, but then doubled the rope, got you up on one of the cabinets and you could have followed me.” He ran that through his head as she spoke, and thought it would have worked, might have worked, that is if he hadn’t broken his neck climbing up on the cabinets. “That is, of course, if you hadn’t broken your fool neck climbing up on the cabinets.” She quoted back his very thoughts. “Are you suggesting I’m inelegant?” “Not when you’re lying down.” That shocked him and he opened his mouth for a cutting reply, but nothing came to mind. He picked up the cup on the table by the door and flung it at her. She ducked and it shattered on the wall behind her. She grabbed a shoe and returned the compliment, hitting him on the back of the head as he, in turn, ducked. “See, awkward. You’d have gotten us both caught, whereas my early departure meant we both got away.” “My quick thinking you mean.” “It was the obvious course to take.” “I’m obvious too now, am I?” “A bit.” “Inelegant, awkward and obvious, but delicate enough to teach you a thing or two in the art of making love, no?” “The practice of rutting, you mean.” “No I do… rutting? Is that what you think we’ve been doing? Rutting?” “What else? It’s what men do, no? Venal, selfish, vulgar rutting. The lowest peasant in the land does as much.” He stared and turned cold. “I guess, it’s true, I am, when all is said and done, merely training a whore, for a priest. One knows nothing, the other cares nothing.” Now she reached over to the windowsill and picked up a vase of flowers thoughtfully gifted them by the inn-keeper, and she flung it with all of her might and sent it crashing against the door. Downstairs Françoise, the musicians and the staff of the inn were together in the refectory and listening to the incoherent shouting, accompanied now by the crashing of numerous items smashing against the walls. One of the musicians turned to the other, and began to count out coin into the hand of his smiling friend. Françoise forced a smile and excused herself. As she reached the corridor outside the room, she was passed by an apparently furious la Motte. She reached out to his arm, to congratulate him on the performance, but she was brushed aside and she stared at his retreating back. Trying to recover from her surprise she took a few steps in the direction of the door of the room and peeked inside and had to duck back quickly, as another shoe whistled past her head. “Jeanne? Stop, it’s Françoise, he’s gone.” Silence. She waited some seconds and risked her head round the door again. Jeanne was inside, sitting on the bed. She looked up as Françoise stood in the doorway. “Not dead is he?” she asked. “Not yet.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 18 - A Country Wedding

A Country Wedding St. Nizier Church, was not particularly small. The side chapel, though, was tiny and filled to overflowing, for the quickly arranged and very simple wedding. At the moment the priest declared them ‘Man and Wife’ a strictly non-traditional cheer went up round them, which echoed in the large nave beside. When they had arrived back at the inn earlier they were met by a beaming inn-keeper and staff. All of the musicians they happened across, also met them with smiles and winks. It didn’t take much to realise they had been spotted in the town, and while this was the plan, it nevertheless took them by surprise. When la Motte asked, if anyone might help in arranging a quick wedding he was, by that point, unsurprised to find a boy had already alerted the local priest, and the musicians had even chosen the tunes they wished to play at the ceremony. They had invited themselves, so as not to worry the couple with details. That evening, the troupe leader had paid for a modest feast, insisting they had only come to Troyes at the last moment, and had been handsomely paid for the engagement. The wedding guest list, was not the longest, nor was it the richest, but it was among the happiest witnessed in that inn, for many a year. Françoise, in spite, or perhaps because of, her more than knowing upbringing, was evidently a romantic at heart. She had fixed up a bridal suite with wild flowers and the freshest linen the inn could provide, along with, what seemed to Jeanne to be every spare candle in the place. So, by the time she and la Motte, made a tipsy entrance to the bedroom, the romance of the day’s events was firmly fixed in everyone’s minds. The musicians even played beneath their window, a slightly baudy song to point them in the right direction, for the rest of the night. About an hour before that moment, Jeanne had pulled Francoise aside, with a request for some help moving her things, from her room, to the bridal suite. Once in her room, with the door closed, Jeanne sat on the bed and with a look somewhere between concern and abject terror asked, “Francoise.” “Yes… what’s wrong?” Jeanne just stared at her and as tears began to form, “Oh my God.” said Francois, and she blessed herself. Jeanne nodded silently, and looked at her hands which were seemingly trying to crush each other. “I never thought this would be a problem, I mean, people said…” said the amazed Francoise. “Yes, people know nothing. I thought I’d have time, I didn’t think it would be so suddenly upon me.” “But, you were free to… did you not feel the urge?” “Yes, but you don’t need men for that.” “…And you at that nice convent.” “There, in particular. But… there were no men, so it didn’t come up.” Francoise stared for a moment and then tried to suppress the laugh. Jeanne heard herself, and she made no attempt to stop. When they had settled down. “Oh, you rich girls, you really know nothing. You don’t have to… you know… do anything.” said Francoise. “So I’ve been told. But, if I don’t do… he’ll know, I’m innocent. La Motte has been drinking, what will he do?” Françoise shrugged “He’ll probably laugh, knowing him. Still, it’s not ideal. What are you going to do with the Cardinal, I thought the idea was to bed him. He won’t be impressed with innocence.” “It is the idea. I don’t know what I was thinking. At first, it was just get him alone, and then gut him like a fish.” Francoise nodded and sat beside her, “That was a good plan.” Jeanne agreed, “But then the Italian and la Motte, don’t want to be executed for murder, and it’s all gotten so complicated.” And she started to tear up again, and Francoise put her arm round her. “Look, tell me what you need to know, we can explain to la Motte and, you know, he can even teach you things, for when you are with the Cardinal.” And she blessed herself again. Jeanne turned, a little encouraged, “So, how much do you know?” Francoise asked. “Like I said I… nothing.” “Nothing? That’s quite a lot, you must know something. Everyone knows something.” Jeanne shook her head and tears came again. “Ok, nothing, ok, I think I can remember back that far…” And she followed with a short lesson on the, ins and outs of lovemaking, with some hint that there were finer points, which could come later. So it was that, as the band wandered away, and la Motte lifted her in his arms and placed her on the bed, she was only a little terrified. He looked at her, and sat beside her and kissed her forehead, and smiled. “So madame, I have been threatened this evening, in a way no man should be on his wedding night, at the point of a knife, that, if I am anything less than gentle with you, I shall be less of a man than I wish to be, in short order.” She smiled and coloured, “Francoise?” “The same. You might have given me a hint.” “I thought you would guess, from the kiss.” “No madame, your kissing is above average, no hint there.” She allowed herself a light laugh, “I … there was no opening to bring it up. “How did you sleep? Oh by the way, I’m a virgin.” …You see?” “I do. Anyway. Do you still want to go through with this plan?” Jeanne gathered her legs up onto the bed and wrapped her arms round them. “I do. He cannot be allowed to go on doing that, even if the victim were not my sister.” “It is the way of the world, madame.” “I know. But it shouldn’t be, and I can’t do something about the world, but I can do this.” “Alright, but if you are to do this then you’ll have to be prepared. Men like the Cardinal, are rarely straightforward in their pleasures.” Her head popped up at that and turned on its side, “I don’t understand.” “No, and I’m not surprised, but it’s not all bad, you have things to learn and it can be quite fun you know, sinning.” “You’re going to show me the scenic route to damnation are you?” “The heavenly way madame, heaven, cannot be so boring nor hell so much fun, if the hints of the saintly are to be believed.” “Heaven it is then.” “We’ll begin like this…” and he leaned forward and began to kiss her very gently and carefully, cupping her neck in his hand… Breakfast, the next morning was all smiles. Francoise joined them, and Jeanne, answered the questioning look with a tight squeeze of her hand. Even the most jaded of the musicians, were impressed and, truth be told, a little jealous. The nights followed the days, and the couple certainly advertised to the world, all that a young married couple should be, but often isn’t. It was the day the musicians were about to leave. Jeanne and la Motte had had another thoroughly enjoyable, ‘lesson’, in the art and pleasure of sex. They were dressing, about to go down to breakfast, Jeanne looking through her things, brought, almost as an after thought to their room, on the night of the marriage. Everything had simply been left in a large heap, which Jeanne pulled about each morning looking for the next thing to wear. Spotting the very thing she was looking for, under one side of the heap, the collapse, long expected, happened. Everything spread across the floor, in a sort of slow eruption. La Motte, waiting by the door, bent down as one particular item came to rest at his foot, a pistol. He frowned and lifted it up. He had seen it before of course. Twice, in fact, but the memory, nudged in Cagliostro’s apartments, now grew to full bloom, as he was back in a jewellers in Paris wondering if he were about to die.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 17 - A Proposal out of Town

A Proposal out of Town It took two days before Jeanne was ready to leave Paris. The parting with her sister had been subdued, and Jeanne would worry for the entire time she was away. Marie-Ann, had simply accepted her sister was leaving, would be gone for several weeks, and was not to be convinced that her sister would return. Jeanne got the impression, that she had expected to be abandoned, deserved it even, and no amount of reassurance would change the sense of fatalistic calm. She spoke with reverend Mother about it, and was assured that Marie-Ann would not be left alone, and they were alive to the possibility of despair. Can you be sure to watch someone, every hour of every day? It didn’t matter, Jeanne couldn’t stay, and without taking the veil herself, she had to trust the sisters. They were to travel separately to Troyes, in Champagne. The provincial capitol vied with Rheims for preeminence in the region, but it looked like it had past its peak. Hardly developed much since the end of the last century, it had a certain charm. As far as Jeanne and la Motte were concerned, it was close enough to Paris to allow gossip to reach there, but far enough away to stop people coming to find out the truth. Some things had been agreed upon. They were actually to be married. They had rooms reserved in the largest inn in the city, at first separate, but Cagliostro had a discreet hold on a double room after a short time. They had testing roles to play, and had to get them right. Jeanne would travel in the company of another young woman, a ’cousin’, the same Francoise Mary who had proved so entertaining, that night la Motte had stolen the wrong necklace. Cagliostro had ensured an audience, by paying for a troupe of musicians to be there at the same time. It was an interim gig, their next stop was in Paris. So the couple’s performance was to be given largely for them. It would, of course be possible for the musicians, simply to be paid to spread the news, but the Italian judged a truly romantic account of the affair, had to be based on reality, if Jeanne and la Motte were up to it. The first evening after their arrival, they came down to supper. La Motte, ‘noticed’ the unhappy young woman eating with her companion, and made discreet enquiry. Then, through Francoise, he asked for an introduction. They walked out as a trio, the next morning, and that evening they ate together, all three. This was the first evening the troupe were there to play. One or two had stayed at the inn on the previous night, there to make preparation for the troupe, and they were familiar with the budding romance. La Motte asked for a series of tunes to be played to cheer up his ‘friend’, and the musicians were suitably charmed, and charming. It was clear to them, by the end of the evening, that the gallant Gendarme, and the shy young lady, in Troyes, they understood, because of an unhappy family event, or perhaps illness, they weren’t sure, but they were getting on very nicely. Their music was of course, the food that was nourishing this romance. The second day and evening followed, and a third, by which time it was clear the demure young lady, was falling for the handsome Comte, oh yes, he was, Captain, the Comte de la Motte. The band were making bets on whether he would try bed her, or go back to Paris and marry her. One grump, said he would continue on his journey to the south, and not be distracted by a woman, but he was the percussionist, and no one listened to him. As it turned out, the couple were actually getting on very well. Francoise was a good catalyst, and not at all possessive of her sometime lover. Jeanne was feeling worried and unhappy about her sister, and la Motte did make her laugh and forget her concerns, while they were together. The project was less and less of a burden as the time passed, and they got to know one another. For his part, he found her quick and clever, never mind her physical attractiveness. They got on well, she laughed at his jokes, and he began to trust her. The one thing that began to bother him, was the prospect of her having an affair with the rapacious Cardinal. That night on the road, de Rohan had not impressed him as a potentially attractive bedfellow, now, with a woman he was beginning to admire, it began to get under his skin. Walking out on day five, they had chosen one of the many river walks in the town, intending to take a bite of lunch, in one of the many small inns beside the stream. “How long before we tie the knot?” Jeanne asked. “He has us on a fixed schedule, any time in the next three or four days, I think. The band have to leave to be in Paris in about a week, and I was thinking it would be a nice touch to get them to play, you know, at the ceremony, they could be witnesses as well.” “You don’t think that’s going too far?” “Musicians? I don’t think that’s possible. They make their living off the idea of love and longing. They are the first ones who buy the thought that it’s real. That is, until it’s them involved. They’re like poets, doubting true love would be like a baker explaining the flour was off.” “I really know very little about the world. Are musicians and poets that bad?” she asked. “Believe me, I’m being nice.” “You’d think the rough childhood I had, would teach you everything you’d need to know about life, and then you find there are parts of it, you never believed existed.” “Did you?” “Did I?” “Have a rough childhood?” She smiled and nodded, “My father was mostly drunk, what we might have had to eat, was downed each evening from a bottle. I had five siblings, only three of us survived infancy. My father used to go on and on, about how we were descendants of Hugh Capet, children of the kings of France, and that he was sorely used to be left thus in the gutter. But he never thought to try rescue his own, from the same gutter.” “So how do you come to be at court?” “Marie-Ann and I used to wander about the village, trying to find food, the local priest was scandalised and he did something about it, something that didn’t involve taking advantage of the situation for himself.” “Unlike our Cardinal.” “Very. When the Queen came into her own, she thought to help when she heard about us. I, though have something of a reputation…” La Motte looked at her with raised eyebrows, the hint of a smile about his mouth. She smiled back, “Not deserved, I assure you, but useful. My little sister was still in Longchamp and the Queen took it upon herself to introduce her to society.” “A mistake.” “Like introducing a gazelle to jackals. If it hadn’t been the Cardinal, it would have been someone else.” “They are all of a seam.” He agreed. “Yes, don’t misunderstand me, I wish to destroy the Cardinal, I would have wanted to destroy whoever it was, but I don’t think, by his lights, he realised what he was doing was so wrong. He might even now be intending to help her. But she isn’t made for that world, even a respectable marriage would destroy her.” “If you don’t think he’s wrong, why go to such trouble to destroy him?” “I do think he’s wrong. I said, he doesn’t think he’s wrong. I hate all of them. They believe, they have a right to whatever woman takes their fancy.” La Motte, looked at his shoes, uncertain he isn’t also, of that same stripe. “Your fight is with the world itself.” “My fight, is with people who think this is the way the world should be. I think it can be otherwise.” He turned to look at her fully, and he took her hands in his and knelt and kissed her hands. “Jeanne, would you do me the honour?” She smiled and touched his forehead and nodded. Francoise, who had been listening, could not have had a broader smile on her face. “Oh, you two are… I don’t know.” La Motte rose and putting his arm round Jeanne, they walked together back to the inn, to see if they might find a priest. But, the course of true love…

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 16 - The Rules

The Rules “What? No! No, absolutely not. Why?” Jeanne was livid, moving about like a caged animal. “If you don’t, we cannot proceed. Perhaps there is some other candidate? Someone we all could trust?” “No, no other ‘candidates’, and no, I won’t do it.” Cagliostro slumped into a chair, and reached over the table beside him, for the bottle of wine. Pouring a liberal measure, he took a gulp, before glaring at Jeanne, and then shrugging his shoulders. La Motte, looked at his feet then at the Italian, and finally at Jeanne. “So, not me then?” “It’s nothing personal.” He smiled, and with a turn of his head asked, “Is it men, in general?” She frowned. “No. It’s marriage, in general. I do not want to be married, at all.” Cagliostro sighed heavily. “But you cannot snare this man without being married. It will not happen.” “Why? Wasn’t he happy enough to attack my sister? She is not, to my certain knowledge, alone in this. He is a lot less particular than you think.” Cagliostro turned in his chair, and he stared at Jeanne, and then at la Motte who stared back. “Are you that unaware of the the formalities surrounding the court? Yes, he can tumble a girl or two, if they are not married. If he can get them, the whole thing is her fault, no one cares. She has no one to object to, as long as he steers clear of any of the more important families. The less important ones he can seduce, and they will cover it up. He will even perform a discreet marriage for them, at a reduced fee. But, we are talking of an affair, something much more drawn out. That cannot happen if you are not, protected, so to speak, by marriage. He, is then also protected, it’s almost respectable. If there’s a child, then it causes no scandal, and he daren’t go too far, as there will quickly be, an understandable, sword at this throat.” La Motte was gesturing in agreement, and Jeanne looked at them, first one then the other, then back to the first. It appeared as thought a mist had blown away, and she was seeing the world in which she had lived, revealed at last.. “How permanent would this marriage be?” she asked. “That, madame, is the point. You can get out of it as soon as the game is done, probably on the grounds of non-consummation.” La Motte looked suitably abashed, but agreed. Jeanne’s eyes narrowed. “I can trust you, can I?” “You can. Which is why it has to be la Motte, I am not sure I could vouch for anyone else.” “Alright, so it would be the three of us, is that all we need?” “Oh no, we need a group sufficient to make this work, without our having to get people at the last minute, too many explanations. But first, we have to get you two out of Paris, a whirlwind romance, a marriage in the provinces and, in a few months, you will be back, married, able to be seen about town. You will need apartments, a small household, and something to wear that will draw the tiger’s eye.” “That sounds like a lot of money.” Jeanne said. Cagliostro smiled and leaned back, he took another drink, before nodding to himself. “It will. But I know exactly where to get it.” La Motte shifted uneasily and coughed. Cagliostro turned. “Even if you do. All these people… that’s a lot of people, and this has to be secret. I want to be able to enjoy my winnings, if we win.” La Motte cautioned. “Not everyone will need to know the game, but yes, they will have to be trustworthy. I’ll draw up a list later and find out who is available and who is… out of town.” “When do we start?” Jeanne asked. Cagliostro smiled, beamed, and raised his glass. “We’ve started. Are you not enthralled, madame? Smitten by this handsome fellow. Is your distress not eased, by the appearance of this fine example of French chivalry.” “Gendarmery.” La Motte said, Cagliostro shrugged. Jeanne looked over at him and really did look at him, perhaps for the first time. She sighed and reached for her glass, which she raised in Cagliostro’s direction, she drank. La Motte bowed, he liked bowing, it made him feel noble, and then, he too reached for his glass, raised it for the toast and drank. Cagliostro was now all business. “Right. When you get back, you are to be a delightful, but strained, couple. The whirlwind has died down. Marry in haste and repent at leisure, they say. You are truly at leisure. You will distract yourselves by entering into the social whirl that is Paris, between Christmas and Candlemas, and then you should have ample opportunity to snare our prize, and the game will really be on. In fact, I might just have thought of the perfect date.” Getting up he took out a key from round his neck, and opened a small chest on a side table. He lifted out a small leather purse and threw it to la Motte. Catching it, la Motte put down his glass and looked inside. He looked up at Cagliostro and grinned, he closed it, and threw it to Jeanne who followed his lead. Her head jerked up in shock. “Do we need so much? Where are we going and for how long?” “You will need, and you will get, a lot more than this. We are hunting a big beast, nothing less than reality will be convincing enough for his sort, and that, is before we can work out exactly how to keep him. You both need to look the part. We have to strike just the right note. If you are too poor and in need, he will have you once, and throw you over. Too rich, and he will be insecure, and fear getting burned. Remember, this is a man who, in spite of his wealth and position, is outside the best circles, and he so wants to get in. Wants, no, needs, to be accepted.” Cagliostro was looking inwardly now, and he smiled. “I can almost taste his need from across Paris. We must capture him and devour him whole.” He turned and looked at the faces of the other two. La Motte looked excited but apprehensive, Jeanne had a grin that could have lit up the entire room. “I can work with that.” She said. Cagliostro echoed her smile and nodded. “Good, because you are risking everything, not money, not reputation, your very life, and if we get it wrong, they will take it.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 15 - Cagliostro's Game

Cagliostro’s Game Closing the door, behind his departing new friend, Cagliostro smiled to himself. He turned, and surveyed his discreet rooms in the Marais. The Marais, was a part of Paris that was home to the unfashionable part, of fashionable society. But, it was still a place to meet people you’d like to meet. The Italian could only afford these small apartments, they were enough. If he could figure out how to achieve this latest commission, he could pay for larger accommodations. How, was the question? Discretion was everything, but publicity was everything else. It wasn’t as though he had partners he could trust. He was looking at a job that had to be very publicly discreet. This would require some careful thought. He turned his mind to his next visitor, who should be along in a few minutes. A regular, and a reliable fellow, but a bit brash. The knock came, as he was pouring out a small glass of port. Setting down the drink, he went to let the man in. But, it was not the man, not a man at all. It was a young woman, another of his clients. One who was ultra discreet. Jeanne de Valois St. Remy. He bowed, she brushed past him and was in the middle of his room before the door was closed. “Monsieur, I need you help.” An unusual start for her. “Madame, you know, I am always delighted to assist you in any way I can, but this is not the right moment for you to be here.” “I do not have many choices.” “Yes, but I am expecting company and your need for discretion...” “Discretion be damned.” “But, madame, so does he.” She looked around the room. There was a bay window and heavy curtains. “I can wait there if I need to. I have no one else I can turn to, and I need assistance, now.” He looked at her again. This was very unusual, she was normally the heart and soul of calm discretion, and from her results, calculatedly daring. The woman in front of him looked tired, and was clearly desperate. Now a desperate woman, to a man like Cagliostro, would normally be viewed as an opportunity. But not this woman, she was dangerous. Something about this tickled his memory, he was trying to remember, something he had heard recently. The knock he had been awaiting came, and recollection and choice, went in the same instant. Frustrated, he pointed at the window, “Alright, it is a mite obvious, and all of my guests are suspicious, but you may get away with it.” She took her place, and pulled the curtain over. He closed his eyes and shook his head, before going to the door. He opened it, held it back, and la Motte walked in. The first thing he spotted was the closed curtain, and Cagliostro, following la Motte, was met with the point of a blade. He stopped. La Motte had his finger at his lips and looked none too happy. Sweeping the blade across the room to face the window, in two strides and one movement, he snapped open the curtain. He found himself looking down the barrel of a pistol. His head jerked back, he frowned, and his eyes narrowed, something about this was familiar. Following the line of the arm he reached Jeanne’s face, and he stepped back. He bowed, sword now pointed at the floor about a foot ahead of his toe. “Madame.” She smiled. “Monsieur.” He looked up, and found she had not put away the pistol. He stood, sheathed his sword. A little more slowly, she put away the pistol. Without turning away from her eyes, la Motte asked. “Cagliostro, my friend, you have not introduced us.” Cagliostro had taken the opportunity to re-attend to his drink, and was in the process of pouring two more. He looked up. “If we are all finished waving weapons around, you might like to take a drink, and a moment.” He brought over a tray with three glasses of port, and offered his company refreshment. They took them, and he walked back to the seats by the fireplace. Before sitting, he said, “Monsieur, may I introduce, Madame Jeanne de Valois St. Remy.” She curtsied. “Madame, monsieur Marc Antoine Nicholas le Comte de la Motte.” Cagliostro sat, the others joined him and he continued. “Now madame, you were in the process of saying?” She frowned at la Motte, but the Italian waved her on, “If you need my help, I think I might well be asking this gentleman to join us in any case. You can trust him.” “Is he an assassin?” That got both their attention, and they turned to her, finding her stony faced. Cagliostro considered, and remembering the gossip, he nodded sharply. “I see. Would I be right in guessing, this concerns recent rumours about your younger sister. She has taken the veil.” “Yes sir, it does.” “I know you are a woman of considerable resources, but assassination is not cheap and it’s a little, extreme.” “Not extreme enough.” La Motte looked at each of them in turn, before holding up his hands. “I’m sorry, you have the advantage of me, I do not understand. Killing someone, for taking the veil seems, to put it mildly, very extreme.” Cagliostro cannot stop the smile, he covered it with a cough. “You are right, it would be, but I don’t think her sister, is whom madame has in mind to kill. Would you like to enlighten our friend madame, if it isn’t too painful.” “I will, sir. My sister, is the kindest, gentlest girl, with the most open heart ,you could ever meet…” And Jeanne related the story of her sister’s encounter with the Cardinal, as far as she knew, and of her frustrating meeting with the Queen. As she finished la Motte smiled and raised his drink to her. She frowned. “I’m sorry madame. I am sympathising with your frustration. I have had a few moments with things being, disappointingly less than I’d hoped, recently. Oddly enough, I had an encounter with your friend the Cardinal, or at least, I believe it was he, there are a lot of them about Paris these days.” So, he told of his recent encounter, and its frustratingly worthless prize. Cagliostro finished his drink, and admired the candlelight through the crystal. He smiled. “So my two favourite, and most reliable, suppliers.” They each gave a slight bow. “A wicked Cardinal, a beautiful woman, and the most valuable necklace in Christendom. You know, we might have something here.”

G.C. Fisher. - Interviews

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 14 - The Harsh Queen

The Harsh Queen Jeanne waited in one of the many corridors at Versailles. Lined on one side with tall windows, the sun glinting off the polished floor, wood panelling offering the smell of the waxed surface, little groups of people, hopeful of seeing a celebrated personage or couple, stories to take home to the provinces. Today would be a special moment for them. At the far end of the long hall the door opened, and the Queen, surrounded by a gaggle of courtiers, mostly women, entered. The hum of conversation dropped, and then evaporated into silence. As she progressed, the Queen caused a wave of curtsying, running down the space before her, at which she graciously smiled without stopping in her walk or conversation. Reaching Jeanne, the observant might have detected the slightest hesitation in her expression, but she continued. Jeanne, rising, called a little above the volume of the chatter around the Queen, “Your Majesty.” At first it seemed as though the Queen would ignore her, but then she slowed, and stopped, she didn’t turn. “Madame, I need your help.” Jeanne, composed but on edge. Marie-Antoinette looked back, raised an eyebrow, her expression neutral. “It’s my sister, Madame, she has been...” Jeanne began. “Rumour has reached my ears madame. I do not approve. I cannot have people close to me, tainted by such talk.” “Madame, she did nothing worthy of reproach...” “She put herself in a position of compromise. Perhaps, she thought to follow your example, I tried… evidently an error, I will not compound it with further association with her, or you. Do not approach me again Madame.” The Queen marched on, and the chatter around her resumed as though nothing had happened. Short of being lifted and thrown into one of the fountains, Jeanne could not have been more shocked, or humiliated. Each group turned away from her, watched with side glances, and a fleeting flickering of the eyes. She gathered herself and made her way on shaking legs in the direction of the way home. Later. She was sitting on one of the beds in the room of the tiny apartment she and Marie-Ann called home, or used to. She was staring at Marie-Ann’s bed, at the small soft doll, she had not noticed her sister had, under her pillow, its legs and one arm sticking out. The child it represented, now gone, and she, powerless to protect her. She was almost certain the Reverend Mother could hold back the Cardinal, she was a powerful woman, with strong connections herself into the church, as well as society; ‘almost certain’. Jeanne didn’t think she could just hope, others could do, what she had not been able to do. She had not survived by being helpless, she wasn’t going to start now. Who could she turn to? The Queen’s put-down had cut off all access to higher society, no one would touch her after that. It was only the Cardinal’s exclusion from court, that meant he would not hear a coherent version of events, might not mean she couldn’t approach him. But that wasn’t a guarantee. She couldn’t come at the Cardinal from above, she would have to get him from below. His weakest point? Poison? He was a glutton, but Marie-Ann might get caught up in a murder like that. Assassination? If she wasn’t to be caught, they’d have to be good and she couldn’t afford good. She could try herself, catch him when he was most vulnerable, but she’d only get one chance. She shook her head. None of this was right. She wanted him to suffer, to lose the life he so enjoyed, and yet to live, knowing what he had lost. She wanted to see him, when he realised he had been caught, and she wanted him to know, it was her. She had to do it. She herself, but not kill him. That meant, there was only one person who could help her. He was the only one who knew enough people who could pull it off. Would he do it? It would have to be worth his while, and a bit more. They would be taking on one of the most powerful men in all of France. She didn’t care about the danger, but he would, and anyone else that was needed. No one would agree to a suicide job, just because she didn’t care about her life. The pitch had to have an in and an out, and money attached. That would mean a lot of thievery, each time a risk. Still. Alright then, the Italian it would have to be. She couldn’t imagine what could be done, but she knew he would dream up something, as long as the risk was taken by someone else, and he was at arm’s length or further. Once she had that hateful priest’s balls at the end of a knife, she didn’t care.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 13 - Aftermath

Aftermath Jeanne marched through the doors of the Convent at Longchamp, as quickly, as she ever had left. Pulling off her gloves as she went, a young nun running, trying to keep up, breathless, as she answered the questions being fired at her. “When?” “Just this morning, a little after Prime, there was a very loud banging on the door, and a driver was there holding her up. She was in a state, I can tell you.” “What did she say had happened?” “That’s just it, we couldn’t make out what it was, all these words came tumbling out, but none of them made any sense.” “What were they?” “What were what?” “The words, what were they?” “Just words, not sentences.” Jeanne stopped suddenly, letting the nun run on, who had to stop and come back. “Which words?” “Oh, um, ‘Cardinal’ was one, several times, ‘Eminence’, was another. She did keep saying, ‘I didn’t...’, but not what it was she...” An older woman, in a larger habit, with another nun, turned the corner in front of them, silencing the young nun, who curtsied. Jeanne stopped just short of her, and she also curtsied. “Mother.” Jeanne said quietly. “Jeanne, I’m glad you’ve come so quickly, we should go to my office, before seeing your sister.” Jeanne held back from the angry demands that were building inside her, conscious as she was that, whatever she thought of these people, they were not to blame for what led her sister here again. The confines of the place were what had driven Jeanne out, and its constant judgement, of her and her thoughts. Of course, she couldn’t escape judgement, society passed that, and it seeped into the convent, not the other way round, as most people supposed. But outside, she was freer, more able to act, the judgement was there, but she didn’t have to bite her tongue, play nice. They reached the Mother superior’s office, and she bade the other two nuns to go back, to sit with Marie-Ann. She held the door open for Jeanne. She entered, and went to sit at the chair pointed to by the reverend Mother, waiting for the older woman to take her seat, then sat. They looked at each other for a few moments, no smiles appeared. “What do you intend to do?” Reverend Mother asked. “I don’t understand. About what?” The older nun pursed her lips and shook her head. “Are you saying you haven’t been told?” “I have been told nothing, Mother.” “Your sister has been dishonoured.” Jeanne stared at the still figure opposite, she coloured slightly, took a deep breath, and examined her lap, before, “How?” “I don’t know.” The nun shrugged. “Where was she?” The Mother said nothing, but stared back stonily, and Jeanne surmised that this was the heart of the issue. She nodded. “So, he’s a churchman.” “I didn’t say so.” “Anyone else, and you’d have been quick enough, Mother. Which one? Powerful? Or some grubby little priest.” “Jeanne, don’t forget yourself. You’re in a house dedicated to the glory and honour of God.” “Yes, and whoever you’re hiding took vows of chastity, which they have clearly dishonoured, and with a child, who you know to be innocent as the lilies. Do not protect them Mother.” Reverend Mother paused again, and then suddenly decided. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “I know nothing, so what I might want to do, or decide I can do, depends on what’s happened and who did it.” “Alright. Early this morning Marie-Ann was brought to the house by a coachman. It turned out he had found her, hysterical, wandering the streets in Paris. He couldn’t get anything out of her, that he could understand, except the name of this convent. So he brought her here. She wasn’t even properly dressed.” “Was she physically harmed?” “Oh yes, most definitely.” “Do you know who?” “Know? Not certainly, but she was quite likely with the Cardinal de Rohan.” Jeanne’s turn for silent contemplation. The reverend Mother watched her, then, “You can’t hurt him, you know, but he could crush you and brush away any evidence of you, without a thought, and he could destroy your sister.” Jeanne looking up met the other’s eyes, and then agreed, before taking a deep breath. “What can you do?” Jeanne asked. “Against the Cardinal? Nothing. We can though, take your sister in, she was already talking with us about coming back, I don’t know if she told you that.” Jeanne shook her head and looked at the floor, a tear escaping before she could stop it. “But, if you go on a public crusade against the man...” she waved her hand indicating impotence. “I won’t.” “I know you Jeanne, what will you do?” “I don’t know, I might not be able to do anything.” “That’s not stopped you in the past.” “True, but I’m not the only one involved this time. First, I need to see her” “She is, fragile.” “I can imagine.” “You have to be gentle.” “She’s my sister, I am always gentle. Perhaps this is where that leads. I thought I could give her the kind of life she deserved.” “This isn’t your fault.” “Of course it is, she is a timid house cat, and I brought her into a zoo of vultures and jackals.” “We should see her.” Jeanne stood, anxious, afraid, steel. She was looking at her prone sister, on the bed in the small cell. The room was bare, a crucifix in one tiny alcove, the sole ornamentation on the wall, and it was raw wood with no figure. At the end of the bed was a trunk, not decorated in any way, wood, waxed not varnished. Its contents would be the spare set of underwear and habit of the nun staying in the room, a prayer book, a hymnal, a bible, a breviary and a copy of the lives of the saints were permanent residents. A small mat on the floor for knees late at night, a table for water and rosary. Her sister slept, she looked serene, but Jeanne could tell from her hair and the bruising around her neck, and a little on her face, that she had been treated roughly. Perhaps it was passion, or perhaps, at some point, she had put up a fight. Marie-Ann moved, and Jeanne saw her wrist was also bruised. She knew these marks were part of the reason the order had been prepared to take in the unfortunate, evidence, in their minds, she had not gone along the path willingly. Jeanne, knowing her sister, thought it was likely a fair summation of the events, but she could also think of times when she had seen such marks on others, that were not the result of resistance. She was glad the sisters were not as worldly as she had become. It filled her with regret, at having led her sister into such a world. Her eyes brimmed with tears, and she walked to the bedside. The sisters left them alone. Jeanne took a seat and prepared to wait, but Marie-Ann’s eyes flickered, and she turned over. Seeing Jeanne she smiled, and then the tears came. Jeanne bent, taking her sister in her arms, just holding her. Many minutes passed, great sobs wracking the young woman, before they slowed, and then stopped. She tried to speak, couldn’t. Jeanne reached over, lifted the cup of water, held it for her, and she drank. With that, came brief eye contact, and it was only with a supreme effort that Marie-Ann controlled the new wave of crying. “It’s all right, you’re safe now.” Jeanne whispered. “No, I’ll never be safe again. He can...” And the hovering hysteria rose again, stopping speech. Several deep breaths, “He can come here if he wants, I can’t ever get away.” “Who?” Marie-Ann shook her head violently, covering her mouth with her hand, terror running across her face. “He said if I mentioned his name...” “Shush child, only I am here, he will never know you have spoken of it. The servants know in any case, it is not something that can be secret, in this world.” “The servants know? Everyone knows? I can’t...” and the tears once more overwhelmed her. Jeanne waited. She didn’t need it confirmed, in truth but thought Marie-Ann had to speak it, or its - his, hold over her, would last forever. So she held her sister, prepared to hold on as long as she needed to. Eventually, the sobbing stopped, exhaustion and dehydration as much as calm. Marie-Ann held her sisters eyes. “de Rohan, The Cardinal. I tried to stop him, but he had given me things to drink and then, I tried... He was too strong, I think it excited him anyway, and he threatened to bing in his man to hold me, said he would let him...” Her hand rose over her mouth again and she stopped speaking, her voice being squeezed out. Jeanne nodded, smiled, and smoothed her sister’s hair, wiped her eyes, and brought the cup to her lips again. “You are not to worry. The Mother here is strong, very well-connected, the Cardinal will not be able to get access to you if she forbids it, and she will. I promise you. As for the man himself... You are not to worry. You wanted to stay here, I am the one at fault for brining you out. Rest. They will take care of you, you are not the first, you will not be the last.” Jeanne bent and kissed her sister’s forehead, and smiled at her again. She let her go and Marie-Ann slid to the pillow. She was asleep before Jeanne had walked to the door. One last look and she left. Sitting on a stool across from the door, the Reverend Mother waited. “So?’ “As you suspected. Will you take care of her?” “We will.” “I will get you what I can.” “No need. Jeanne, what will you do? Nothing rash.” Jeanne forced a smile. “Nothing rash. I will see what I can do, he has many enemies.” “But do you have friends? Good friends?” “She has. We’re about to find out how good.”

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 12 - The Cardinal's Sin

The Cardinal’s Sin She had been sitting, waiting for the man to call her in to see the Cardinal, for a couple of hours now. Engaging though the lives of the saints were, sitting, unable to move about and now cold, they had lost their appeal. Add to that, the fact she had no idea why she had been called here and, that it was now getting late, also, she had not eaten for several hours, had missed lunch, it was all too much. Jeanne would be annoyed. She had just decided to pass on her regrets, when the door opened and the Cardinal’s man walked over to her. “Mademoiselle de Valois St Remy, his Eminence would like to see you now.” She rose, and made her way into the room following the man servant. The first thing she noticed when she entered was the warmth, it washed over her like a blanket on a winter’s day. The Cardinal was seated at a small table beside the fire, further down the room was a large table set for supper, and she noted there were but two place settings. The Cardinal stood, and she curtsied. He held out his hand, and she walked over and curtsied again, kissing his ring. “Mademoiselle de Valois, so nice to meet you.” “I am honoured your Eminence.” “Please sit.” Marie-Ann looked around and found the servant bringing a chair over to her. He placed it beside the fire, and retreated once more to the darker edges of the room. She sat. The Cardinal himself, poured a small glass of wine for her and handed it across. Marie-Ann took it without knowing what to do next, as she didn’t drink alcohol. So she sat, looking at the glass while the Cardinal topped up his own, and she wondered, how to explain that she didn’t drink, and how to find out why she was here. “My child, did you know, that of all of the fine ladies at court the other evening, you were the only one not to laugh at her Majesty’s gentle teasing?” She looked at him, puzzled, “Eminence, I do not understand.” “You didn’t laugh at me child.” “I would never...” “No, I don’t think you would. But that gentle nature is, I suppose, the very reason the Queen favours you.” “Favours me, Eminence?” “You were sitting beside her Majesty, I think many of the ladies present that evening would have given their eye teeth, to have you your place.” “I couldn’t say, your Eminence.” “No, I don’t think you notice at all, do you?” He looked at her. If there had been a moment, when he might have doubted the wisdom or charity of his plans that evening, this would have been it. It wasn’t. Doubt, never touched the Cardinal’s mind nor heart at all. He gave his gentlest, most understanding smile. “What do you want out of life, child and what do you expect?” “Want Eminence? Nothing.” “Oh, come, you must have dreams, ambitions. A good marriage for instance?” “No Eminence, I do not.” “So the Queen has brought you to her side, for decoration? She has not mentioned to you anything of a match to a favourable gentleman? The younger son of some noble and ancient house, one who has had better fortune then your own family?” “I do not know why the Queen has favoured me. I thought it a kindness on her part, to one who was adrift.” “Adrift?” “Yes Eminence.” “How so?” “I had intended to remain with the sisters in Longchamp.” “Which order?” “The poor Clares, Eminence.” “And, no doubt, you would have led a very worthy life there child. But don’t you see, you have been given other gifts? God has favoured with a beautiful face and a body to match. God, does not do these things for no reason.” Her alarm growing, at the direction of the conversation, Marie-Ann stayed silent, part shock, part simply not knowing how to answer. The Cardinal smiled. “Ah, I see some understanding of this has indeed touched your heart. Let us eat, and chat more, see what we can find for you in the future. I am a powerful man, and very well-connected.” He reached out his hand to her, and she placed hers on his as he rose, and he guided her to the table. The meal had been going on for some time. Marie-Ann could not have said then how long, nor could she tell later. The wine, mildly sweet as was the fashion, had been poured and poured, and though she had tried to drink water, as the meal progressed, so the water disappeared. His Eminence, had gone on about how bright the future could be, “if”... but never was quite clear on what the “if” was. He had told her how much he could do for her, talked of how pleased the Queen would be to see her being helped, by him. Of eligible young nobles, wealth beyond her dreams. She hadn’t argued, hadn’t pointed out she wanted a simpler life, one of quiet prayer and hard work. She didn’t feel drunk, not that she had ever been so before, but she felt able to stand, thought she was in control of herself, that she could walk away. Pudding arrived. The Cardinal stood, and shooing his man away, he dragged his chair round to sit right beside Marie-Ann. He lifted the bowl of cream and sweet pastry and a spoon. “We’ve talked through possible futures for you, child. Things that might happen, some of them I can bring about myself. You must, by the way, taste this exquisite dessert, I had it made especially for you this evening.” She frowned at it, then at him. “Looks like profiterole, Eminence.” He looked shocked, a little outraged, embarrassed, but shook his head. “Like profiteroles, but my chef has made something more delightful still. Here.” He drove his spoon into the the cream and chocolate and pastry as the girl muttered, “Don’t like ‘em.” “Oh but you must taste, this...” He shoved the spoon into her mouth as she opened it to refuse the favour. Drawing breath to speak, she inhaled the cream and began to cough. Always the gentleman the Cardinal reached over to help. “Oh, you poor dear, look, some of it has spilled on your collar.” He stood, moved round behind the coughing girl and unbuttoned the collar. “I shall get my man to clean this. Oh, child you are so delicate, such light skin.” Bending over her he proceeded to kiss her neck, as her coughing subsided, and she tried to push him away. Her efforts only succeeded in opening forward her bodice, which had been covered by the collar, and the Cardinal wanted not for a second invitation, or any invitation at all. His hand dived down the front of her dress and the shocked young woman froze. Outside the room the Cardinal’s man pressed his ear to the door, as muffled sounds of the struggle came through to him, and he indulged his baser instincts, turning red, smiling.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 11 - The Fence

The Fence La Motte stood, knocking back his chair and knocking over his drink. The man on the other side of the table, opened his eye, dropped his loupe into his hand, and looked at la Motte calmly. “Fake? What do you mean, fake?” La Motte demanded. “I mean the stones are glass, not stones, and the thread is cotton and the links are base metal, it’s a fake. It’s a very good fake, an expensive fake, but it’s a fake.” La Motte’s mouth opened about to speak, and closed, several times, and he blinked, he blinked quite a bit. “But I took it from their own hands, they were in their own carriage, in front of some churchman or other, he was all in red, for God’s sake. It couldn’t be, that’s almost a sin, right there.” The man with the loupe looked again at the necklace, but then shrugged. He was short, with small eyes and pronounced whiskers. His movements were deliberate, and always seemed on the verge of performing a magical trick. Perhaps this was the reason he had a whispered reputation, as an alchemist, maybe even a wizard. Some said, he had been to the future, others, that he could travel from country to country in minutes. This evening, Cagliostro was being what he was most of his time in Paris, a trafficker in stolen goods, a fence. “They were coming back from Court, I was told they were presenting it to the Queen. Are you telling me they tried to palm off a fake, to the Queen?” “No. I’m telling you this necklace, is a fake, beautiful, sparkly, and fake. It isn’t that uncommon. You can hardly stop to check if what they are giving you is real, they wouldn’t offer any sort of guarantee. Sometimes, they even stock them in the vaults at their workshops, stops people wrecking the place, if they think they have what they came for.” He waved his hand in the air, waving away La Motte’s pain. The highwayman slumped in his chair. He then sat up, brightened a little, “It’s a very good fake you say?” “The best.” “Expensive, Monsieur Cagliostro?” “Oh yes, they took a lot of care with this, nothing cheap about it. You were taken in by the very best, no shame in that.” “So, if it’s so, how much would you give me for it?” Cagliostro gave la Motte a long stare, shook his head. “Nothing, not one sou, Monsieur.” “But you said.” “If this were the real thing, it could be broken up. The larger, more recognisable stones recut, the smaller ones sold or made into something else and then sold. This, is expensive to make, but unsellable in its current form and worthless if it’s broken up.” “Would no one buy it?” “How could they wear it? It would instantly bring down the interest of the authorities.” La Motte stared at it, and bit his thumb, and shook his head. He then laughed, and stuffed his hands in the large pockets of his coat. He frowned, and drew out and looked at, the purse he found inside. He weighed it in his hand. He seemed to think it promising, and he loosened the string at its neck. He spilled the contents onto the table, and a small, but respectable, heap of gold coin sat in front of him. He stared, and a smile began to break over his face. Picking up one coin he threw it to Cagliostro, who, catching it, he too smiled. “I do believe this is genuine, Monsieur. The churchman?” “The churchman. A sure sign of God’s indulgence toward a poor sinner.” Cagliostro held up the coin, “I think this will buy us supper.” La Motte held up another, “And this some decent wine.” A few hours later they have eaten heartily, and drunk heavily. La Motte looked at the empty cup in his hand, and frowned, then looked up. “They say if the wine is good you don’t get a hangover Monsieur, do you think it’s true?” Cagliostro drained his cup and, like his companion, examined the cup. He considered the proposition, then slowly, he leaned forward. “I think we will find out in a few hours.” “Yes, but will we find out if good wine leaves you free of a heavy head or, if this was not good wine, eh?” Cagliostro looked at the cup again, really looked at it then up again at his companion, and shook his head slowly before slouching back against the back of the bench. La Motte looked around himself, and leaned in closer across the table, now much more sober than he had seemed a few seconds before. “Tell me, what do I have to do to get that,” he looked round again, “piece?” Cagliostro thought, and watched la Motte, maybe weighing him up. He too leaned closer and shook his head. “You can’t, not now. Maybe not ever. Two attempts so close together, that was clever by the way, they wouldn’t have expected that, but careful men, Boehmer and Bassenge, that fake,” and he leant back shaking his head and wagging his finger, “on their guard now. They’ll get you if you try now, can’t afford not to.” La Motte slid backwards, and took the deepest of deep breaths, lifted both arms and dropped them again. “You’re right, I know it. Damn, so close. But Rochefort was nearly on me, no time, never enough time. Do you think he’s following me?” “I think he is watching out for you now, twice is no coincidence. You have to be careful, dangerous fellow Rochefort, well-connected.” “Nothing for it, I’ll have to start thinking of something else, do you think I should go on the stage? I have a fine voice.” Cagliostro examined him, then leant forward and squinted, before slouching back. “No, too old, they like ‘em young these days, like ‘em very young.” La Motte looked mournfully at the table and shook his head. “I had such hopes, and I’m washed up at thirty-one. Let’s get more wine.” A few tables away a man, dressed in a uniform strikingly similar to Rochefort’s has a glass in front of him, but his is filled with water. He watched carefully, and took notes in a small book.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 10 - Innocence Named

Innocence named The room was grand, but lit as it was, with so few candles, dark. The three men were finishing a lavish meal. Boehmer dropped the bones of, something, on the plate while Bassenge dipped his fingers in a bowl of water and wiped them carefully on a large white napkin. The Cardinal, leaning back in his seat, cup in hand, and watched with a predatory eye. “So gentlemen, three rejects, feeling fortunate nevertheless, because we have cheated a thief, and won a victory, however small. Here is to small victories.” The others reached out, and raised their glasses, touching over the table with an expensive ‘ting’, and they drank. “But tell me this, gentlemen, did you know those people in that room, the witnesses to our humiliation?” “Oh Eminence, humiliation is too strong a word for it. Humiliation only happens if they accuse you of using cheap gems, or substandard workmanship.” “Or serving terrible wine.” Bassenge chimed in, and they laughed. “Perhaps, you are used to being rejected, the rough and tumble world of commerce must offer you many such experiences. But I am not in commerce. I have been a Bishop from a very young age, before even I had had a woman. I am Grand Almoner of France, and Abbé of two of the richest and most prestigious monasteries in the Realm. I am a Prince of the church, and have been an Ambassador plenipotentiary of France to the Queen’s mother, Marie-Therese of Austria. I, gentlemen, am not used to being told, ‘go away’, like a tradesman, or a pestilential child.” His companions sober up a little and sit a bit straighter. “It is true that we might be more used, though it doesn’t happen very often, we are very careful to understand our client’s wishes, you know, but all the same, it does happen, that we get rejected, from time to time.” Bassenge said, trying, so far as he could allow himself, to be tactful. Boehmer nodded seriously, as he spoke. The Cardinal leaned forward. “But did you know them?” The Cardinal pressed. The jewellers looked at each other, then back at de Rohan. “Who?” “The people, in the room. The people who saw it, did you know them?” Boehmer, looking at his partner said, “For the most part, yes, they would be known to us, clients, and friends of clients.” “Good, good. There was one young woman, particularly striking, no ring on her hand that I saw, come to think of it, no jewellery at all. Sitting beside her majesty, did you notice her.” Boehmer frowned, trying to remember through the fog of wine and good food. “Was that young, de Valois St Remy? You’ve met her Bassenge?” “Oh, I think her younger sister, Marie-Ann? I think, yes, I think that’s her name. A very devout young woman.” “Devout, is she? Why is she at court?” “The Queen likes her sister, but they have something of a difficult reputation, the father...” He mimicked someone drinking from a bottle. “...And they are dirt poor, but still, distant cousins of his Majesty, so not to be dumped, no matter what you think. The Queen is very kind to them.” “She is? I wish she was as kind to me. She doesn’t understand, you know. I was young, being used by the Duc d’Aiguillon, he was against the ‘Austrian marriage’, I thought I was working for the good of the King, for the good of France.” The master craftsmen, unused to such outpourings from the upper echelons of society, exchanged alarmed glances, as the Cardinal appeared to be on the verge of tears. But, he straightened up, and pulled himself together. “Marie-Ann you say? De Valois? How fortunate, and the Queen wishes her well? Perhaps I can help, you know some patronage, introduce her to the best sorts, eh?” “The Queen might look on that very favourably, Eminence.” Boehmer pronounced. “Oh yes, she might indeed.” added Bassenge enthusiastically. “And they are poor, you say? Not many resources, I could do several good turns here.” The Cardinal, appeared almost to have forgotten that he was in company, a vision playing out in his head and a small smile drifted across his face. Even as it did, so he realised he was not alone, and he turned the inner smile to something more bland and deliberate. “Gentlemen it has been a very good evening, rescued from the jaws of a very unpleasant one. Would you mind showing me once more that wonderful necklace, spurned by the Queen?” The jewellers grinned, and Bassenge took out once more, the thin tube of leather, and uncorked the end. Sliding The folded leather onto the table he unrolled it and then patted the extraordinary piece flat. The Cardinal moved the candles closer and admired the multi-coloured vision in front of him. “This is indeed a work fit for the neck of a Queen. What would it cost?” Boehmer smiled, and his eyes twinkled, no other word for it. “Two million livres, Eminence.” “Two million, well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but who could afford it?” “Only a King. It was made for the King’s grandfather, for his friend, and only the King could have the resources to pay for it now.” “So what will you do?” “We know the Queen likes it, but it was made for a woman she detests, and the price is, I admit, extravagant. She is, though, the Queen of France.” Waving his hand at it, the Cardinal said, “Put it away sir, you are very great craftsmen, a tribute to France that it can contain such talent.” Bassenge carefully rolled up the jewel and slid it home. The Cardinal stood and smiled. “Thank you Gentlemen for a fine evening and seeing your handiwork was an honour, I hope it finds a suitable home.” He smiled and they turned. The man at the door opened it, and they passed through and out of the building, to where their carriage waited. In a few more minutes they were well on their way home. Boehmer turned, and looked at his partner with a critical eye. “What?” asked Bassenge. “I have changed my opinion of you several times this evening. Admiring your calm at the court, furious with you, that you revealed the necklace had not been stolen, when it provided the perfect chance to break up the thing, honour saved. Then, watching his Eminence, I believed you’ve been coaxing him to become a buyer. Now, I don’t know if you're a genius of a salesman, or a fool who doesn’t realise even the Cardinal doesn’t have the money to buy it.” The other man shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be great if we’d just been held up by some cheap highwayman, and I thought, so close to Versailles, people might see it as a criticism of this Majesty. I wondered about the Cardinal, he has very deep pockets you know, and more than that, he has many friends.” “Hmm, worth considering at that. Alright, then you’re not a fool, but the jury’s out on your genius.” Bassenge smiled at that, and their carriage wound it way through the narrow medieval streets of Paris, and into the damp night. But dark streets have dark eyes, and everyone is watched, especially if they are unloved by the Queen.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 9 - The "other" Queen's Mill.

The ‘Other” Queen’s Mill La Motte was naked and lay beneath a naked young woman. Her hair was long, red, dark and hanging low, covered his face. She, an insubstantial figure compared with the size of the Captain beneath her, but she didn’t seem to lack anything in her control of her man. Their clothes were strewn across the room, and the bed linens were a tangled mess. In spite of this her bonnet still clung to her head, though a little askew, an she had a light silk scarf round her neck. Whatever had been going on here, appeared to have been going on for some time, and with some considerable vigour. On the table near the bed, the remains of a meal chaotically strewn across it with two bottles of wine, both empty. Two earthenware cups beside them, one half full the other tipped over, what little was left in it, dribbled out over the table onto the floor. From outside the door, came the sound of heavily booted feet pounding on the stairs as, what sounded like several men, came up, in something of a hurry. The couple on the bed, preoccupied as they were, didn’t seem to notice, and they didn’t pause in their enjoyment of one another. They didn’t even react straight away when the door, without a knock or an ‘if you please’, was slammed open. When, the uninvited guest, strode into the room, they did stop, and la Motte looked up, pushing aside the curtain of hair. He looked, and squinting, looked again. “Is that the Comte de Rochefort, officer in his majesty’s horse? I think it is. My dear, allow me to introduce the Comte de Rochefort, Commandant in his Majesty’s horse. Monsieur le Comte, Madame Francoise Mary, a daughter of this house.” The young woman turned and while the sight of her naked torso had little effect on the Comte, his men looked away, before looking back. “Where is it, la Motte?” Silence. La Motte looked at the young woman, and then back at Rochefort, and then at the men, and then at the young woman. “Where is it?” The Comte asked again. Francoise looked at him and thought about that before, “Where is what?” She asked. La Motte turned to Rochefort and waved his hand at him. “Do not play the innocent with me, I will turn this place upside down if I have to.” “Ah, I’m sorry Rochefort. My dear, your innocence.” The young woman giggled and twisted round on Lamotte’s body, she looked sadly at the Comte. “I lost that some time ago sir, I can’t remember where exactly, I was probably drunk, you see and a gentleman took advantage...” And she held out her hand in a sad gesture, to the effect that what was done, was done. The Comte de Rochefort seethed. Slowly he turned toward his men and gestured round the room. “Take this place apart if you have to, but find me that necklace.” His men entered the room and la Motte pushed himself up onto one arm, his far arm covered Francoise’s back. At the same time, the innkeeper appeared at the door, pushing his way into the room. Rochefort noticed that the man, from his face, his clothing, even his manner, was remarkably like the innkeeper of the last inn. He frowned. The innkeeper raised his hands and his voice. “Sir.” The men froze. Rochefort was not in the mood. “What do you want?” “I couldn’t help but over-hear your last command sir.” “What of it? I’m on his Majesty’s business.” “I have no doubt, sir. But the Marquis, next door, hates it when his night is interrupted by noisy guests.” “What Marquis?” “Monsieur le Marquis d’Acy, sir.” “Why on earth would Acy stay here?” ‘We are, usually, quiet... and discreet, Monsieur.” Rochefort stared at the man, who lacked only the jug and cloth for him to be the man from earlier that evening, but he made up for that lack, from the way he clutched his apron. Rochefort slowly turned toward la Motte and looked round the room, then back to the innkeeper. “How long has this... person been here?” “He came in earlier this evening, sir, had a meal and... um, entertained my girl here.” “This evening?” “Yes sir.” “When, this evening?” The innkeeper looked around the room and then back at Rochefort. “About seven, maybe a little earlier, but not much.” “That’s a long time, for a meal and a little entertainment.” “My girl is very entertaining sir, and my food is very filling.” “And you’ll swear to that, will you?” “Happily sir.” Rochefort whirled round and saw his men blocking the door, preventing a quick exit. “Get out!” “One moment Rochefort.” la Motte shouting at the back of the waiting Comte. “Yes?” “Whose necklace have you lost? I mean, if anyone should find it?” The Comte said nothing but turned and pulled out his sabre, all in one movement, almost removing the head of the innkeeper who dived for the floor. In a single step he had la Motte at sword point. la Motte smiled. “It will take the smallest excuse sir, and I will do something, that believe me, I shall not regret.” Rochefort snarled. “I was merely trying to be helpful, Monsieur.” A range of expressions passed over the Comte’s face, none could be understood as friendly. He sheathed his sword, turned again and strode through the door. Then, once through, he stopped and took two steps back into the room where the innkeeper was getting to his feet. Rochefort watched him rise, frowned again, thought for an instant, and was gone. The room held its breath, until the sound of horses leaving, drew the innkeeper to the window, and he looked out. “They’re gone.” The girl giggled, and lay back on the bed at la Motte’s feet. The innkeeper walked over to the table and gathered up the remains of the meal. “Do you want to eat?” “I’ll say. Bring some of that wine as well thank you.” The innkeeper moved to the bed where he looked at the girl. “Let’s see it.” She pulled over her hair, and lifted the scarf, to show the necklace round her neck, and she grinned. “I think, he should give it to me, don’t you? It looks so well on me.” Francoise smiled. The innkeeper just grinned and shook his head. “When people don’t look, things become invisible. I’ll shout at Paul to fetch your horse from that field, and rub her down, she was a bit on the warm side.” La Motte reached out to the the girl’s hand and drew her forward, sitting upright in the process. “Give her a good feed as well, she deserves it and I, can afford it.” “Whatever you say, sir.” The innkeeper left pulling the door behind him, as la Motte began to kiss Francoise in earnest. Suddenly he stopped and leaned back, admiring the necklace on her, and he smiled. “You’re right, it does suit you.” She grinned and they fell to love-making.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 8 - A Coach of Mixed Feelings

A coach of mixed feelings The Cardinal was fuming still, as the carriage rumbled on, on its journey to Paris. He kept looking at the door, as though he might jump out and grab the man who took his money, worse, held him at the point of a pistol. He was making the two men opposite him very nervous. Bassenge cracked, “Come Eminence, the purse didn’t seem too large or too heavy.” The Cardinal looked up and stared, but seemed to be looking through him, before finally closing his eyes, and opening them again. “Do you gentlemen get stopped often? You seem remarkably calm, considering the ordeal you’ve been through, and what you’ve lost.” “I wouldn’t say we’re held up a lot, that would be the, what? Second time, perhaps?” Boehmer shrugged, and looked with some concern at the perspiring churchman. “But he took that necklace, its value must be, at least, for me, several year’s income. I am not a poor man, but that is a lot of money, and you are, relaxed.” Bassenge smiled to himself and nodded. Then, with a sly look at his partner, who was still looking intently at the Cardinal, he reached into his coat. “We are calm Eminence, because we were prepared.” From the inside pocket, he slid a tube of leather and unstopped one end. Seeming oblivious to the shock, and small squeak of his partner, he slid from the tube a leather wrap. He reached across to the Cardinal, and brushed away his hands, to lay out the wrap on the man’s knees. The Cardinal gasped, as the unravelling wrap was shown to hold the necklace. De Rohan kept his hands back from the jewellery, and simply stared as though its appearance was magic. Bassenge, was very happy at the response to his show, still not seeing the horror in Boehmer’s face. As the Cardinal turned to look at him, Boehmer wiped the expression away with a professional smile, and a wave of the hand. “You see Eminence, the villain might have gained more by searching us, but as is usual with these people, he was in a hurry, and quite rightly too.” “What was in the box?” “A display item, glass, coloured and exactly set, We have to bring the real thing to show the Queen, but for others, that will do, for demonstration purposes, you understand.” As the necklace disappeared from view, the Cardinal watched and nodded, and he smiled. “So. It still upsets me to be threatened at gunpoint, but even that, you took in your stride.” “Eminence, these men are professionals, not cut-throats. They take a certain pride in their work, and wish only to profit from the evening. Killing people would, especially people of your standing, would be bad for business, and a shortcut to the gallows. No, I think we were in no danger, this evening.” Again de Rohan nodded, and then sat back. “So we have all been a bit smarter, and our highwayman has failed to make the catch he thought he had, and he may well be snagged by our gallant Count de Rochefort, but even if not,” He grinned, and reached in to his cloak pulling out a fat purse, much heavier than the one he’d given over to the bandit. It is now the jewellers turn to be impressed. “This is what he might have taken. Have you eaten gentlemen? I find facing a pistol, and imagining death is imminent, gives me an appetite, join me.” Even Boehmer now smiled, and relaxed. Bassenge laughed, and sat back, but failed to notice another venomous glance from the man beside him. Relaxed then, but not that relaxed. They all agreed, supper in Paris was exactly what was called for. Sure the Count de Rochefort would catch his prey.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 7 -The Unexpected Interview

An unexpected interview The carriage jerked and rolled along the ‘main road’ from Versailles to Paris. They had sat in a brooding silence no one, even between the partners very inclined to be chatty, or to share the dark thoughts that had passed through their minds. They had been on the road for about twenty minutes and were still passing through the forests surrounding the Royal palace. The lights of south-west Paris were just flickering in the distance, through the thinning trees. As was usual Bassenge was beginning to feel sick and had shuffled himself over to the window and lowered it, just enough to allow so air into the compartment. Just as he did so the carriage slowed, the Cardinal looked at him as though the lowering of the window, and the slowing and then stopping of the carriage were somehow connected. Bassenge returned his look blankly, and then slowly turned to face the door. A sudden shot snapped all of three heads round to the door. Outside the the armed men atop the carriage were sitting with their hands in the air , on the road, a large, awkward tree branch blocked the path. In front of them, on a fine looking horse, was a masked and dark cloaked figure, putting away one pistol, still holding another on the men, even as he pulled out a third from a holster in the saddle. “Gentlemen, that was very stupid, one of you could have been hurt. These are dangerous roads, positively filled with desperadoes and villains, what if I had been that sort of fellow?” He walked his horse closer to the carriage and stopped again. “Now, no more fuss. Dismount, and you, open the door so that I might speak with your passengers.” Now, more than a little frightened, the men were happy to oblige and they lined up at the side of the carriage, where one of them puled open the door. The Cardinal was not to be intimidated. “What is the meaning of this? Do you know who I am?” The man on the horse looked at him carefully and then pushed his horse a little closer but shook his head. “I can see you’re some sort of priest. I think, important enough to have paid a deal of money for you clothes, your get up doesn’t look cheap, but, no, I don't. On the other hand, I can tell you’re rich, sir.” “I am the Grand Almoner of France sir, monies I have are for those with less than you or I, you dare not steal from the plates of the poor.” “I wouldn’t have dream of it sir. But, I am a very poor fellow indeed, else why I would be out plying my trade on this dirty road, at this late hour, when all good men are in bed. I am pleased to hear you have my money and I shall thank you for it.” The Cardinal didn’t move but stared up at the man. Boehmer leaned closer to the churchman and whispered, “He does have a pistol Eminence.” “He does Eminence.” The man too leaned forward, adding, “He also doesn’t want to get down and search your body.” The Cardinal reached into his coat, and pulled out a small purse, which he tossed at the man. Having deftly caught the purse, in a hand already holding a pistol, he turned to the other two men. “Now, to the main business of the evening. Gentlemen, you have with you I believe a nice necklace, it is usual I know to deny it, and make me do silly things to prove I’m serious when I say, I’m a ruffian of the worst sort, but we don’t really need all of that, do we? I know you have it, you know it, the Cardinal will swear to it, I’m sure, so, hand it over.” The two men looked at each other and nodded. Boehmer reached down beneath his legs and pressed on the panel. Springing out, it revealed a compartment with a small pile of boxes from which he took the largest and threw it to the gentleman of the road. Sliding one of his pistols into a leather holster in his saddle the highwayman, flipped open the case and snapped it back. He was about to say something more, but stopped and listened. From up the road in the direction of Paris, the sound of horses. He waited a second until he could be sure, but then, turned and spurred his ride away across country. The men in the road lowered their hands and stared at his disappearing figure. The Cardinal climbed out of the carriage and moved round the men, as though by chasing him, and he might somehow retrieve his purse, red-faced with fury. Boehmer and Bassenge exchanged a nod and a look. Boehmer leaned back and smiled tapping his stomach. Then, all turned to face up the road to Paris, from which direction came the sound that had caused the highwayman’s swift departure. A troop of his majesty’s cavalry rounded the corner at a gallop, and had to pull up sharply as they saw the large tree branch blocking the road. Half a dozen men and their officer, who ordered his men to clear the road, while he trotted down to the carriage. He pulled his horse to a stop. Bassenge was the first to speak, “de Rochefort, we meet again, why do you happen to be out here?” “Your Eminence, Monsieur Bassenge, I have been given certain intelligence, that a villain intended to waylay a party on this road. I had been told it was planned nearer Paris, seemingly the intelligence was only partially correct. Is everyone alright?” “We are uninjured physically, but I have lost a considerable sum and these gentlemen have lost a priceless necklace.The fellow has not long headed out across country, I think you’ll catch him, if you’re quick.” The Cardinal said, looking now as though, if he could see him, he would catch the man. “Don’t worry Eminence, I have also been informed of where he will likely run to ground, after he leaves here. I fancy that we will get there before him, if he went that way.” He looked back over his shoulder, checking on his men and bowed to the carriage occupants. “Gentlemen, your road is clear. If my information is correct, I will return your goods to you forth-with. Boys!” He wheeled his horse, and headed on up the road sweeping past that carriage in a cloud of dust, leaving the Cardinal and the two Jewellers staring after them. The Comte de Rochefort was confident he had his man, and he was equally sure who his man was. Upon leaving the scene of the break-in a few weeks earlier, he had made strenuous efforts to find out more about this rude captain, who, he still suspected was a thief. A little money, to people who knew people and soon the answers came back that, without anyone being certain of anything in particular, yes, he was a man who clung to the shadows. A little more money, and he’d been told about this evening’s escapade. He had moved quickly to make sure he would get his man. He’d missed his first chance, but there could be no mistaking the inn he was heading for, they had passed it on the road earlier. The Queen’s Mill, not too brash, but not the dregs, of he thought it about the Captain’s level. The troop were as swift as the angry aristocrat had hoped and the inn appeared up on their left. Sending two men round to the rear to check the stables and leaving two men out front. He dismounted and entered, again with two men at his back. A young lad came running over asking if he might help, or if they needed lodging. “The keeper, now!” Was all Rochefort said, sending the youngster back as quickly as he could stumble. It took a few moments before the innkeeper, looking harried and hot, appeared, threading his way between the racous customers. He stopped in front of the Count with a jug in one hand and a cloth in the other and, from time to time he used one to rub the other. “Messieurs, how can I help you?” “I am looking for a man, he probably won’t yet have arrived, about my height, broad, vulgar in his manner, he will be armed. I understand he frequents this place, often staying the night.” The keeper thought about that, looking solicitous he answered, “Your description might fit a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance, sir, but not this evening. We have two parties staying tonight, both families with young children. Both families are abed, already.” “You’re certain?” The innkeeper looked surprised and a little offended. “I do know my own inn sir, and everyone who stays in it. I’d like to help you but unless you can be more precise...” “The man is a captain in the Gendarmes, goes by the name ‘La Motte’.” The innkeeper smiled broadly and gestured widely with his hand. “Ah, the Count, yes, yes I know him, and he does come here from time to time, or the other place.” “Count? He’s no Count.” “Well sir, you’d know better than I, but he certainly calls himself ‘Count’, and his friends know him as such.” “So are you expecting him?” “I never know if he will drop by or not, sir. You don’t have to make an appointment here, to eat or drink, sir.” “I have been told he would be here, certain.” “If you say so sir, he doesn’t include me in his plans only in his orders, if you follow me.” and he grinned broadly again. The count thought about that and about what he’d just heard, then slowly, he frowned. “What is, ‘the other place’?” “The other place? Oh, ‘the other place’, it’s... the other...” and he waved his hand in the air, “the other Mill. The Queen’s Mill, it’s on the other road to Paris, east of here.” The Count stared at him and changed colour a little. Taking a deep breath the whirled on his men. “Out, out, we are in the wrong hostelry. You get the men at the back, to horse, quickly now.” The piled back out through the door leaving the innkeeper standing watching the confused exit. The door banged closed, and he waited another moment before smiling again to himself. Then his name was shouted, and he was off, on the unending work of those who feed others for a living.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 6 - Out, Out!

Out, out! The room was silent. Normally, it would be filled with the quiet hum of polite conversation, with an occasional voice raised in delight at winning at Pharo, or listening intently to the Queen’s playing of the harpsichord. Not this evening. In front of a shocked room, Paris’s foremost jewellers were, while trying to hold onto their dignity, packing away their most valuable piece, the object of that most recent, futile, break-in, what would soon come to be known as the Queen’s necklace. This evening they had gambled, that the Queen would not turn them down in front of the land’s most favoured ladies. But they were wrong. Very, very wrong. “Gentlemen, you’ve brought this necklace to me before?” “We have Madam.” “You brought it to my Husband, the King?” A look between them as the thought occurred that this might not have been the best plan. Boehmer spoke. “We did Madam.” “And my answer then, gentlemen?” “It was in the negative Madam.” “My husband’s?” “Also in the negative.” “The necklace, has it changed?” “Ah well Madam, you see these...” “Appreciably, has it changed very much, gentlemen?” “No Madam.” “Have I changed? I hope you are not going to point to my greater age...” “Eh, No Madam.” “Given these facts, why would my answer change?” The turned to each other, hoping, no doubt, to see an answer in the others eyes that was absent from their own mouths. They turned back. “There is no reason Madam.” Silence reigned. They were now uncertain, should they just leave? Or await a dismissal? If they tried to leave without being dismissed, it could be construed as an insult, if they waited, they might be seen as impertinent. She left them, and they were acutely aware that they were being left. Her hand, her left hand began to wave them away, and she turned her attention to her cards. They dived for the elaborate case and packed away the priceless and now, valueless, necklace, as quickly as they could, the difference in value, the mere wave of a hand. They packed as though wishing they could be gone before they had arrived. The case locked, they backed away to the door, little short of a run. The door swung open, and they collided with the red clothed figure of the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg, Abbé of St Vaast, and Chaise Dieu, Grand Almoner of France. Being who he was, and who they were, they tried to get out of his way as quickly as they could, but were neither able to return to the room nor leave. After several seconds of tension, he stepped back, and they scuttled past. The Cardinal swept into the room. The Queen, in spite of the whispering of ladies dresses rising and curtseying, as the great man passed, did not look up from her cards but played out the hand. The young ladies at her table followed her cue. The churchman bowed and stayed bent until the Queen was ready. Finally she put down the hand, turned and smiled. She stood, and curtseying she did not reach to kiss his ring. “Your Eminence.” “Majesty.” He might have been about to say something, but the Queen turned away immediately to the very youngest woman at her table. “Marie-Ann, you are too young, but I was even younger than you when I first saw his Eminence. It was at my mother’s court in Vienna. His Eminence was an ambassador from the King’s grandfather, the late king, he was so handsome, then, and so clever, always holding meetings and trysts, quite the talk of the city. Is that not so your Eminence?” The singled out young woman is now crimson, and unable to find a suitable point for her eyes to settle. De Rohan, scarcely less embarrassed, flushed and bowed his head. “I’m sure gossip inflated the importance of the ‘meetings’ Madam and the existence of the ‘trysts’ at all. The life of an Ambassador and man called to the service of God, is less interesting than young minds imagine it.” “Ah yes gossip. The tales of your opposition to my marriage to the King? You and the Comte de l’Artois, I seem to remember, were connected in the stories and still close confidants, I hear.” “I am always an admirer of the Queen herself and the Comte is a good and loyal servant to his Majesty and to France.” “I am sure he is Eminence… To what, this evening, do we owe the honour of your presence?” “A mere courtesy Madam, and enquiry after your good health and the simple pleasure of seeing you here at court, Madam.” “My health is good Eminence, the pleasure you might have in seeing us all surely cannot be increased by duration but rather blunted by over exposure. It is always a delight to see your elegant and brilliant self, indeed such is it, that I fear to be exposed too often. I thank you for your visit, and bid you a good night and safe journey. Back to, Paris, is it?” The Cardinal was completely nonplussed by this curt and rough treatment. He had little option but to bow and to leave. So that was what he did. The door closed, and as it did he could hear the not at all disguised or suppressed laughter, of the Queen and her ladies. It would be impossible to describe fully the emotion that crossed the Cardinal’s face as he glared at the door, but blind fury comes closest. He spun round and marched out through the corridors of the palace and down to the carriages where he knew he would have to wait, as his departure would not have been expected so soon. As he made his way back through the Queen’s apartments many’s the courtier had to make a swift retreat to avoid the onrush of the departing prelate. He arrived at the carriage entrance and with considerable relief saw his vehicle just there, door open, ready. He headed straight for it and into it. Just as had his reception with the Queen changed in an instant from the fantasy to reality, so now his carriage changed into that, not dissimilar coach, belonging to the equally upset Boehmer and Bassenge. He realised his error only as his foot was on the step ready to mount inside. Two faces of the unhappy gentlemen peered out at him, and he stopped. Bassenge reacted first, “Will your eminence join us? We are headed back to Paris, we will pass your apartments on our way.” A quick calculation of those he would not meet if he chose this expedient, made his mind up. “Gentlemen, an accident, but a happy accident, for all that. Thank you. If you don’t mind the imposition, I would be happy to accept your kind offer.” They smiled and nodded at one another as the Cardinal made himself at home across from the artisans, the door slammed closed and the coach jerked into life, the three rejects nursing their injured pride together. But things are never so bad that they cannot get worse.

The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 5 - Cardinal de Rohan

Cardinal de Rohan Light piercing the darkness is always a shock. Daylight, flooding a room darkened by heavy drapes, and thick with the scents of night-time debauch, does not disinfect, it merely reveals. It does, however, hammer at the heads which, only a few hours earlier, had been floating on a sea of alcohol. One head, believing it made him more charming and handsome, the other hoping it would dull the pain of what she was about to do. It didn’t. The Cardinal de Rohan rose naked, and stretched, yawned, kept his eyes firmly shut. His body had lost such athletic proportions it might once have had, and it suffered in the mornings. His man, who had drawn back the curtains, walked to the tray he had placed on a small side table and collected a small bowl, of soup, onion soup. Bringing it to the Cardinal perched on the edge of the bed, he held it in front of the prelate and waited a moment as the Cardinal drew in the aroma, testing whether food was likely to stay down once consumed. He nodded and a small spoonful was fed to him, followed by another. A short pause, again awaiting the result, then another nod. A few more spoons before the bowl was pushed aside, and the Cardinal stood. Turning his back to the window, he finally opened his eyes and muttered a short prayer. He yawned again, and rubbed his stomach, smiling he wandered away to the smallest room in the apartments. His man took a few seconds for himself, looking at the naked figure of the young woman in the bed. He was conflicted. He found her very attractive, but she was the kind of woman who would sleep with a man of the cloth. She was both beneath him, and he knew, so far above him as to be, normally, beyond his greatest fantasies. In any event she was at this moment naked, and in front of him. He thought of waking her with a slap on the backside, and then thought again. Reaching for her shoulder he shook her gently. Her eyes blinked opened and then shut tight against the light. “Madam, you have to get up now.” He said to her, not too roughly. She was concentrated on breathing and stopping the room from turning he knew, but she had to be gone by the time the Cardinal returned. They would have a few minutes as he had left several letters in the privy, for his grace to read. He watched as the woman pulled herself together, taking in where she was, and what she had done. He noticed the blood on the sheets, and wondered if it meant what he thought it might, but the Cardinal was not a gentle man, so it might not. The servant always takes his cue from the master, and he gave in, even savoured, the moment. Reaching forward he slapped her bottom leaving a red mark, she stiffened. She pulled herself round, away from the man, and gathered the bedclothes round her. “You have to be gone madam, his Eminence doesn’t like it if the young women are still here, when he has breakfast.” He explained. “But will the Cardinal keep his word?” “What word is that?” “He promised, that if... he promised he would say a novena for my mother.” “A novena? That is quite a lot of praying for one... mother. You could certainly count on him saying a mass for her.” “She’s ill, he promised a novena, I’m afraid she may die.” “That’s between her and God, madam. You could buy a novena from the Poor Clares in Longchamps, I hear you can get a very nice service there, incense and all.” “Sir, I have no money, that was why...” She began to look around for her clothes, now seeing them strewn about the floor. She looked at the man, and at the fact she would have to gather them up in her current state. “Can you give me some time to gather myself and dress, sir?” “No madam, we have lost a few sets of candle sticks that way, and his Eminence has important papers in the room.” “Could you then hand me my clothes, please” “And have you accuse me of stealing? No madam?” She was now on the verge of tears, but pulled herself up and stood. She glared at the man, and dropped the bedclothes seemingly determined, if she could not be modest she would be brazen. The man ensured he was between her and each item she needed. He watched, breathed her in. Having gathered her things, she put everything on the bed and began to dress. As she finished drawing on her stockings, and about to step into her shoes, the servant coughed. “If you need some money, I could let you have, not enough for a novena, but a couple of masses.” She turned puzzled. He ran his tongue over his dry lips and then reached for the front of his breeches. She followed his hand and suddenly his meaning became clear. In a rush, the morning headache, the disappointment, the anger at her humiliation came out, and, throwing her shoe at the man’s head, she screamed.

The Cardinal's Sin, chapter 4 -Boehmer and Bassange

Boehmer and Bassange The coffee house had begun to gather clients, as those who worked at night headed home, and those who worked days went to do just that. Whichever direction they were going, they all seemed to eat the same thing. Bread, cheese, those heading home, some light beer, those on the way out, coffee or chocolate. Lamotte and Rochefort, had in front of them a pot of coffee, empty, the remains of a basic breakfast, and two empty glasses, that might once have contained cognac, fortification against the night. Despite these legendary inducements to conversation, it was clear that there had been precious little of that, and they sat in silence. Not for much longer, as one of the Night Watch’s men came in to the room, and coming over to Rochefort said, “The gentlemen have arrived, sir, and are currently opening the establishment.” Rochefort nodded and rose. Moving more slowly, Lamotte stood and straightened his coat and slipped his satchel over his shoulder. The Watchman turned, and threaded his way back through the crowd, to the door, followed by the two aristos. As he passed the proprietor, Lamotte said to him, “The Comte Rochefort will pay, put it on his tab would you?” “Yes sir, thank you.” “And a little bit extra for yourself, for getting you out of bed, thank you.” “Right sir, thank you.” Rochefort turned as he walked making eye contact with Lamotte. He turned away again and continued outside, but said nothing. Lamotte grinned and followed. The rumour of robbery along with the early opening of the shop had gathered a small crowd in the street. As the watchman and the two officers approached they pulled back. The party, led by Rochefort ignored them and marched into the shop. The place was a hive of people pulling out drawers and checking stock. On the Mezzanine floor an anxious older member of staff, aproned for work, was standing with the older watchman beside the door to the vault room, which was open. The party from the coffee-house came upstairs, and Rochefort walked straight into the vault room. Inside, the vault was open, and every drawer seemed to have been pulled out. Rochefort’s head snapped round at Lamotte, as the room had the look of having been ransacked. Lamotte was taken aback, but smiled as the larger of the two owners appeared from round the door, looking relaxed. “How much is missing?” Rochefort asked. “Mmmm? What? Missing?” “From your stock, sir, what has been taken?” Another head appeared round the corner. “Missing? What’s missing, Charles?” Charles turned from his colleague back to Rochefort. “Is something missing?” “Sir, I do not know, I presumed, given the chaos, that something was surely amiss.” Again Charles looked around, and then back at Paul, who in turn, looked around, and then both looked at Rochefort. “Chaos? What chaos?” as Charles Boehmer “This,” and Rochefort waved his hand around the room indicating, everything. Lamotte stood in the doorway, grinning as he watched. Boehmer and Bassange looked again at one another, then another turn around the room. “Do you mean our stock-take? If we are to find out if something is missing, we must first take everything out to check. We check as everything comes out, and again as everything is put back.” “So you have checked once?” “We have, sir, and we are checking again.” “And is anything missing?” “Nothing has so far, shown itself to be missing.” said Charles. “Or not shown itself, and thereby be missing.” echoed Paul. “Quite.” Rochefort looked at the men with forcefully sealed lips, and put the information he needed together in his head. His mood was not improved when, on turning, he was met by a broadly grinning Lamotte. “It would seem you have been vindicated.” and Rochefort gave a shallow bow. Lamotte returned the bow, and stepped aside to let, the less than happy, cavalryman pass. Once past Rochefort stopped, and turned bringing Lamotte up short. “Do not mistake me sir, you have been vindicated in that, you have not been found to have stolen anything, but, I still do not believe your story of a phantom thief, and your supposed derring-do. I doubt I shall have the occasion to meet you again, but pray sir, that the circumstances, if we do meet, are a good deal more favourable, than this first acquaintance.” If Lamotte had a long or stinging reply to this, he held it in satisfying himself with a deep bow, and his grin, which, in truth, could not have gotten broader without dislocating his jaw. Rochefort turned, and with the Watch in tow, left. Lamotte turned round, looked at the exposed fortune, and sighed deeply, following the wounded aristo out of the shop. A few moments later Boehmer’s head appeared round the door, watching as the last of the parties left the premises. He echoed Lamotte’s sigh. Bassange’s head appeared beside him and he looked up at the taller, larger man. “Gone?” “Gone.” “What shall we do?” “We press ahead. We can’t back down now especially. It was made for the court, we have to try to sell it to the court.” “Might have been better if it had been stolen.” “Might have? It would certainly have been better and with this crowd,” he pointed down at the door, “it would have been very public.” “The thieves, or the fence, would have realised their mistake.” “But would hardly have put that about.” “Whereas, if we’d said that it had been stolen, and it had not...” “Exactly, that would have reached all the wrong ears.” “What a to do. We can’t sell it, we can’t break it up without admitting we can’t sell it, and it would seem we are too secure to have it stolen.” “Who will buy it if the Queen does not?” “Who could wear it at court if they did?” "It could be the end of us." They continued to stare at the door, their departing saviours, and the milling crowd, who had begun to disperse.

The Cardinal's Sin -Jeanne

Jeanne Across Paris, at a rather more exclusive residence, the same moon ducked behind the next cloud. From the roof, another rope dropped down two floors, and the end pooled on a small balcony, in front of a set of double glass doors. The black suited thief, who had caused Lamotte such difficulty, slid down silently, soft leather gloves over rope. Landing outside the doors, a quick shake of the rope and it fell down beside him. He gathered it up. Taking a quick look round, the door was eased back, and he slipped inside. The room was simply decorated, and on the small side. Twin beds sat between two wardrobes with, against the short wall beside the doors, a small dressing table. The thief stood still for several seconds allowing his eyes to become accustomed to the light and watched the figure sleeping in one of the beds. Sure they were asleep and turning to the dressing table he bent down. Eyes swept the few items on the table top. Sitting in front of the mirror he sighed. You could just make out the reflection as the thief grabbed the mask from over his head and pulled. As the mask came away blond hair spilled out round her shoulders as the thief turned into a young woman. Seeing herself in the mirror, she smiled and quickly pulled off the rest of the costume. Once the black over clothes were off, she folded them tightly, put them into a small bag and stood. Round her chest and waist were wound bandaging, giving her the slight figure of a young lad. These she unpinned and unwound until she was naked and very much not, a young lad. The bandages joined everything else in the bag, before she pulled on a white linen nightdress. Bringing the bag with her, and sliding it under her mattress at the end of the bed, she slipped under the covers and pulled the pillow about. She closed her eyes. “Can we sleep?” “Marie-Ann, you’re supposed to be asleep.” “I was. You’re supposed to be in bed.” ‘I... Needed some fresh air?” “Do you always dress up in that strange way to take a deep breath?” Silence followed, for a brief spell. “You can’t speak of this.” “Really. I just want to sleep.” Another silence. Then. “Jeanne, you’re not doing anything dangerous, are you?” “Of course not. I wouldn’t.” “Ok.” And silence descended again. Jeanne waited, before long Her sister’s breathing slowed and became deeper. Jeanne too closed her eyes and slept.

The Cardinal's Sin - The Count de Lamotte

Chapter 2 ​ The Count de Lamotte ​ ​ “How many of your friends are there?” The thief asked. “A few.” ​ The head in front of him tilted, the eyes flickered again to outside of the room. The Captain would have made a lunge for the pistol but, with it cocked and at this distance, there was too great a danger of a mistake. Slowly, with deliberation, as more noise came from outside, the lad’s head turned again looking at the man in front of him. ​ “They’re not with you.” “You’re sure?” “I am now.” “What difference does it make?” “It means we both have to get away.” The Captain shook his head, “I’m a Gendarmes Captain, in uniform. You’re a thief.” “So I’m as well off pulling the trigger.” After a moment’s thought, “Ok. What do you propose?” “I’ll put this back, and we both make for the skylight.” “Deal.” ​ The Captain uncocked his pistol and took a step back. The thief hesitated, then he too stepped back, but much more warily. The older man turned and walked out through the door. Downstairs, he could see lights at the window, moving along the gaps in the shutters, trying to find a way in. He smiled, knowing from experience there wasn’t any. He walked over to the skylight and took the rope in his hand. Bracing his foot against the nearest display case he reached up to climb. He had gained about two feet clear off the floor, when the rope snapped, and he went down in a heap. The noise produced and instant reaction from outside. The lights stopped moving, and there was silence, as those in the street listened. ​ Inside, the thief appeared from the vault room, and was across at the skylight in a couple of strides. Head shaking, he took in the scene straight away, and looked up at the opening as he approached. Lightly, he leaped onto the display cabinet the Captain had used as a brace, walked along its edge, and sprung up catching the lip in a single movement, swinging up and out. Another instant, and he was gone. The Captain clambered to his feet. ​ Looking up and raising his arms he hissed, “Right, reach down, and we can both get away!” The noise from the street suddenly increased and a large gap appeared in the shutters. “Hie, don’t mess about.” He hissed again. ​ In reply, the Captain had to watch as the door of the skylight slid home. He coloured, then turned to look down and made his decision. ​ “Alright! Alright! I’m coming. Who the hell are you? Don’t damage the place.” He shouted loudly. ​ Going to the front door now, making as much noise as possible, and looking for the locks. They were all on the outside. The banging started up again in the street. ​ “Wait! You’ll do more damage than you can pay for.” ​ He turned and looked around the room trying to find some way of getting out from inside. A small window, high up and to the side, caught his eye, and he walked over to it, shouting back to those outside. ​ “At the right. Meet me around the side, in the alley.” He watched the lights in response, move along the front of the shop. He took a deep breath and walked over to the window. Looking up he realised it was too high, and he turned to search for something to stand on. ​ Outside, a small group waited below the window. One man in uniform, two carried lights, looking much more dishevelled and disreputable. One other, the oldest, had a short blunderbuss at the ready. They all watched the window. The noise from the inside suggested that, whoever was about to come through, was having difficulty. Finally, it swung open and a hat flew out. The old man raised his gun, but was waved back by the man in uniform. From inside, ​ “Keep my hat would you, it’s going to get crushed.” ​ A moment or two later the hat was followed by a coat and satchel. The soldier, a cavalry officer by his uniform, waved at one of the men with the lights to pick them up as they waited. More noise and scrapping, before at last, arms appeared and then a head. The Captain struggled though the small window, and it was only as he was about to fall from it, that any of the men made a move to help. It was evident they were not supporters, in fact once they had broken the fall, they dropped him, and he lost what remained of his dignity climbing up the leg of the dirtiest of them. ​ They watched him dust himself down. He thanked them for his coat, his satchel, which he put on, and reordered, before holding out his hand for his hat. Once that was properly in place, he looked at the four men in front of him, settling on the Cavalry officer. ​ “Good evening gentlemen.” The cavalry officer seemed affronted at this, “Explain yourself, sir!” ​ The Captain appeared taken aback. ​ “Me? Explain myself? You gentlemen must explain yourselves, interrupting a Gendarme Captain, as he went about a delicate operation that has taken weeks, literal weeks in setting up. And, you have aided in the escape of a would-be thief whose plans I have only just frustrated. Who the devil are you?” ​ The men with the lights exchanged an uncomfortable look, the officer simply glared, furious, the old man with the blunderbuss was the first to answer. ​ “I’m the watch sir. This gentleman, drew my attention to some suspicious sounds, in the jewellers’ store sir, and we came to check. He said he saw movement on the mezzanine floor, and we atempted to gain entry to investigate further. You know the rest.” “A fine mess you’ve made of things, suspicious sounds indeed.” ​ The Watch and his two mates seemed intimidated by the brusque attitude of the Gendarme. The officer, not so much. ​ “No, no, you don’t get away with it like that. What were you doing? Did you have permission to be in there? And, who are you?” “I don’t need permission when pursuing a criminal, sir. As to who I am, not that you’re entitled to know, I am the Comte de Lamotte, captain of the Kings Gendarmes, at your, and the King’s, service.” ​ He swept off his hat and gave a large and florid bow. The Watchmen gave slight awkward bows, the Officer remained stiffly upright. Lamotte eyed him up and down, considered slapping him, but thought better of it. ​ “And you sir? You are the sole personage who remains unidentified. Given the part played here are you the thief’s accomplice, knowing him in trouble you create a brouhaha and allow his escape? Eh sir, your name, let’s have it?” ​ The Watch now turned to face the Officer, so much for him a few seconds earlier, now they looked in suspicion. Suddenly on the back foot, the man coloured. ​ “I am the Comte de Rochefort, chef d'escadron in his majesty’s horse. I demand a proper explanation from you for this evening’s events.” “Commandant, delighted to make your acquaintance.” He offered once more, a florid bow. “Simple enough. Some days ago I noticed a young fellow, lithe, wiry, looked like one of those acrobats you see. Anyway, he was walking about this shop, not in it mind, outside, looking up the walls, that sort of thing. I decided he was up to no good and I set up to watch the place, I took a room in that place over there, you can check with them if you wish.” He pointed to a coffee house on the corner of the street. “They offered me a room that affords an excellent view of the place. After a few nights, I’d seen nothing. Then, about the forth or fifth night, I caught, quite by accident, a glimpse of someone making their way across those rooftops.” His audience was mostly rapt at this point. Even the commandant seemed engaged. ​ “On the roof? The devil you say.” “I do sir. So, about ten days ago I changed my spot and found a place up there, in the lee of a large chimney. This evening, my vigil was rewarded. The fellow arrived and entered through a skylight. I followed and had him under my pistol when the clamour from below distracted me enough that the villain got away.” “You will be able to offer some corroboration for this tale?” “Indeed, the damaged roof-light, but more importantly the presence of the items, he didn’t steal.” de Rochefort looked him up and down and then pointed at the coffee house on the corner. ​ “We can wait in there, for the owners to arrive and we’ll have your proof.” “Capital,” and they walked together to the inn. ​ The Watch left to rouse the proprietors, as the gentlemen headed towards the hostelry. They shared neither hopes nor fears. As he walked, Lamotte made a silent prayer that the thief had, in fact, kept his word and replaced the necklace, realising that, in the rush to escape, he had not checked, had not made any search of the lad. Was there honour among thieves? He was not sure how well his ‘Nobility’ would stand scrutiny, this sort of theft had a rope at the end of it. ​ ​

The Cardinal's Sin -chapter 1-The Thief

The Thief ​ Paris 1783 ​ The Captain stood in the darkest shade of a very large chimney stack, the full moon shining and hiding behind the drifting cloud. He had been waiting here each night for the past ten days, and he would go on waiting because he knew that, eventually, his young adversary would turn up. ​ He had seen him about a month earlier and then a week after that, circumspect in the extreme, agile, quick, and shy of any hint that the authorities might be onto him. He hadn’t noticed the Captain, secreted as he was. He was well out of sight, now as then, because he knew that there would be an atempt on the Boehmer and Bassange workshop sooner or later. The prize was too great. A necklace made for a King to admire, as it sat round the throat of his mistress. A piece designed with utmost care and constructed with the finest delicacy. The most valuable jewel in Christendom. It was only a matter of waiting. The lightest of scrapes. The Captain’s head snapped round, his eyes scanning the rooftops where they met the sky. The moon hid once more and in the grey, a slight movement. His grin was not as bright as the moon shine, but it was a lot bolder. ​ The figure was, as he remembered in the glimpses he caught of him, running lightly along the tight Parisian rooftops, taking care not to stray from the brick where his footsteps would not be amplified in the roof void. The Captain squinted, trying to see what he wore on his feet. He couldn’t be barefoot, but his passing was virtually silent, the flapping pigeon’s wings made more noise. ​ The lad stopped at the edge of the workshop rooftop, and stepped onto it. The moon came out and he ducked and froze. The Captain saw him turn to look up at the sky, no doubt to see how long an interval before the next cloud. The boy’s face was enveloped in a light black knitted cloth and the rest of him was similarly enmeshed, reminding the Captain of something he had seen before. Then, as the moon was covered again he remembered; acrobats, tumblers and acrobats. They wore similar clothes, and they had light slippers, perfect if you wanted to slip across a surface silently. He frowned trying to recall if he had seen a troupe advertised recently, it didn’t matter, he was certain of it now. The lad slipped to the roof light, and crouched. The Captain knew he’d have to jemmy the catch, as he himself had checked it about a week earlier, and he waited for the sound of the wood giving way. Nothing came. To his amazement, and if he was honest his admiration, the roof light rose quietly and was laid on the tiles before the lad’s slight figure slipped inside and disappeared. ​ Now was the moment. The Captain stirred himself, stretched his arms and legs, stiff from waiting in the cold, and closed the twenty yard distance to the roof light. He got to the edge and crouched down before carefully taking a look over the lip and into the space beneath. Catching movement below he jerked back out of view. Removing his hat he bent closer to the opening, risking one eye. There he was. Moving lightly through the display cases, the would be thief was heading like an arrow for the door, behind which, the Captain knew, was the vault that held the necklace. Watching as the figure crouched and busied himself about the lock, he thought again of the ease with which the light had been opened and he risked a look at the catch. Clean as a whistle. The mechanism had been bored through with something. Puzzled, he leaned closer just as the moon came out from behind a cloud and threw his shadow across the shop floor. The Captain eased back out of the way. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he was in time to be clear had the lad looked up. ​ Several minutes passed before he dared to peep again, as the latest cloud cloaked once more nature’s lantern. Inch by inch he lifted his head above the rim. The dark figure was nowhere to be seen, but the door to the vault-room was open. He levered himself over the edge and, discovering the thoughtful thief had left a rope, he slipped down into the shop. ​ Once on the floor he took a moment to orientate himself and before he crept over to the door of the vault-room. He stopped and listened. A pause of several seconds, but then he caught it, the sound of a drawer being either pushed or pulled from its place. In his head he tried to imagine the scene; the necklace appeared; a moment to admire it, to savour it, to remove it from the tray and into, whatever he had to transport it, probably a bag, but maybe a small case... stop, too much imagining... Then, return the drawer, turn and head for home. The Captain pulled out his pistol and eased back the door ready to step in for the surprise. But it was he that was caught. ​ About an inch from is face he was looking at the muzzle of a small pistol. The hand that held it was steady, the voice light. “Move sir, and I will fire.” The Captain grinned, “That toy?” “At ten feet, you’re right, sir. At ten inches, quite enough.” “What now?” “Your pistol, butt first, slowly.” ​ The Captain considered his options, decided he had none and raised the weapon hanging on his finger, butt first. He admired that the pistol in his face never budged an inch and that the lad hadn’t flinched, in spite of the sudden move against instructions. “Stupid.” A shrug in response. ​ The noise from behind him though, produced a different reaction. The lad’s eyes shifted to across the Captain’s shoulder. In spite of the shiver that had run down his own spine, the Captain flipped the pistol round, raised and cocked it all in one movement. The figure in front of him closed the distance, to now less than an inch from his eye, almost as quickly. ​ “What now?” the Captain asked.

Lockdown - a short film script

INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM / BAY WINDOW - DAY EDNA (mid-80s, outspoken battleaxe) peers out the window. Stares fixedly through the net curtains. Home-phone in hand, wrapped in the cord, she spies on her next door NEIGHBOURS (father and teenage daughter, KATY), sunbathing in the garden. POLICE MAN (O.S.) ... Mrs. Wilder, 999 is only meant for emergencies -- EDNA Young man, if breaking the corona virus rules isn't an emergency, I don't know what is! POLICE MAN (O.S.) Your neighbours sitting in their garden 'drinking Stella from the can' is not a breach of the COVID- 19 measures, ma'am -- EDNA But he's not wearing a shirt, his gut alone is an offence -- Headphones in, Katy bobs her head to the beat as she writes in her notebook. Despite the heat, Katy is dressed head to toe in baggy clothes. POLICE MAN (O.S.) Now, I'll have to ask you to hang up, and if you do witness a breach to please refer to our GMP website to report -- EDNA A website? I'm not a teenager, nor am I a pervert, I don't waste my pension on that Internet nonsense. You should listen to what I have to say now, it's not like I have nothing better to do. I'll sue for repetitive strain injury if I have to hold this phone any longer. POLICE MAN (O.S.) Mrs. Wilder, this is the fourth time you've called in two weeks. Ringing 999 for inappropriate reasons are potentially putting lives at risk. Do you have someone there who cares for you, are you on your own? EDNA Pfft! On my own? Chance would be a fine thing. I have um... my husband, and family and... and neighbours calling me every five seconds, doing things for me. I'd pay to get a bit peace around here! -- INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM / BAY WINDOW - LATER Empty. Quiet. An AMBULANCE SIREN lights up the street. Edna rushes to the window. The siren stops a few doors down. Edna watches concerned. Scared, she backs away from the window. No-one is there to comfort her. She places a CD in the player. A picture of her and her late husband, singing in the choir, sits on the table. Presses play. Choir music fills the room. Edna breathes in. She sings along. It soothes her. Until, the siren sounds again. She turns up the volume. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - DAY Choir music explodes through the wall. Sat in bed writing, Katy angrily pulls out her headphones. A rap beat can be heard. Edna's voice vibrates through the room. KATY You've got to be kiddin' me. Katy persists. Headphones back in. Picks up her pen. KATY (CONT'D) (quietly raps) I’m 15 but it’s covid-19, ma life’s postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out! But don't.
Katy gives up. BANG, BANG, BANG! Katy bangs on the wall. KATY (CONT'D) TURN IT DOWN! Katy bangs again, but the music only gets louder. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna turns up the volume. Eyes filled with tears as she sings louder. BANG, BANG! KATY (O.S.) TURN IT DOWN!!! ARE YOU CRAZY?! INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - LATER Alone, Edna watches the Coronavirus Daily Update on TV -- NEWS REPORTER (O.S.) ... it came after Boris Johnson's announcement of prolonging the lockdown... Edna looks around her empty house. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Alone, Katy watches the same update on her phone in bed -- NEWS REPORTER (O.S.) ... for a further three weeks, confining the nation to their homes, only being allowed out for essential food shopping and one hour of exercise... ON PHONE: Message arrives from JACK. NO SCHOOL FOR 3 MORE WEEKS! (happy emojis) Katy rolls over. Bored, and depressed. Katy replies: #LOVINLOCKDOWN (heart emoji) Drops the phone. Stares at her poster of Eminem. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS BUZZ! The TV flickers. EDNA Oh, stupid thing! It becomes unwatchable. Edna scoffs. Investigates further. Pulls the TV out to deal with the aerial and wires. EDNA (CONT'D) For heaven's sake, that damn cowboy electrician. Should've wrapped that cable around his bleeding neck. £150 my eye. Biggest waste of money -- Now nearer the wall, Edna can hear Katy rapping. Edna places her ear to the wall. KATY (O.S.) (raps) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely... INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS ON PHONE: Katy records her rap. Not a natural performer, her hand and body movements are awkward: KATY (raps quietly) I’m 15 but it’s covid-19, ma life’s postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out. But don’t. / Forget school milestones. Don’t you dare moan... Pandemics... profound but I just.. I just... AGGGHHHH! Katy stops recording. Rewinds. Watches the footage. It's awful. She falls back on her bed. Head in hands. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna shuffles closer behind the TV to hear more clearly. SMASH! Edna knocks the picture frame to the floor. EDNA Oh, for pity's sake, Edna, you old fool! Picks up the shards of glass but cuts her finger. It's deep. Blood seeps. She wraps it with a towel. In shock and scared, she looks for help but no-one is there. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Katy's concentration is broken once again when choir music bellows through the walls. KATY What the...? Oh no you don't! Not again! Katy storms out. INT / EXT. EDNA'S FRONT DOOR - CONTINUOUS KNOCK, KNOCK, BANG, BANG! Edna peers out. Slightly opens the door to Katy, who stands 2 meters back. KATY CAN YOU TURN IT DOWN? EDNA I'm sorry? KATY TURN THE MUSIC DOWN! Edna scoffs and shuts the door. Katy throws her hands in the air at a loss. KATY (CONT'D) (to herself) What the actual hell, lady? -- The music stops. Edna opens the door again. EDNA Are you still here? KATY I came to ask you to turn the music down. EDNA Yes, well it's down now, and you're breaking corona rules, I should report you. KATY I'm standing 2 meters back, and I wouldn't have come over if you weren't being so loud -- Katy spots Edna's bloody towel and finger. KATY (CONT'D) What's that, are you alright? EDNA Don't I look alright? KATY You're bleedin'. EDNA I lived through the war I can handle a little cut thank you very much, and there's a 'G' at the end of bleeding, now if you don't mind? You kids today, a little scratch and you call 999. KATY You need to bandage that up, stops the bleeding and stops gettin' an infection. EDNA Alright Miss Holby City, when I need medical advice I'll go to the doctors. KATY But you can't right now, it's not worth endangering yourself, exposing you to, you know... Edna takes a beat. EDNA Yes well, I seem to be out of plasters. KATY Wait here one minute, okay, I'll be right back. Edna rolls her eyes. Katy runs to her house. EXT. EDNA'S FRONT DOOR - MOMENTS LATER Katy stands (2 meters away) whilst Edna bandages her finger using Katy's first aid box. EDNA Did you wash your hands before you gave me this?! KATY Yes, I told you I did, didn't I? EDNA Speak to adults like that in school do you? Katy rolls her eyes. KATY (CONT'D) I don't need it, gonna be a rapper aint I? EDNA I don't know, are you? KATY I write it all too, all my own stuff, every last word. EDNA From your many years of life experience, I'm sure you have some profound things to say! KATY Old enough to know sarcasm. EDNA Come on then, let's hear something. KATY Now? EDNA Are you waiting for backup singers? A mic? KATY No, I just. Most people just laugh at me when I tell 'em I wanna be a rapper. EDNA Hm, yes, most people are idiots. Edna motions for Katy to start. KATY No way! EDNA And why not? KATY Because! EDNA Because of what? KATY Thing is, I'm not... I'm not great at performin'. Writin' I can do! But, rappin' infront of people? EDNA Oh, I see. Well, practice makes progress, keep working and one day you'll be a professional, now stop stalling, I'm not getting any more comfortable sat here. Katy shakes her head. EDNA (CONT'D) COME ON! KATY Okay! Sshh, keep it down, geez. (beat) Ahem. (quietly) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Katy awkwardly motions with her hands. KATY (CONT'D) Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. I’m lonely - EDNA Well, you'll need to be louder than that, I can't hear a thing! KATY Okay! EDNA And loosen up, you look like you're being controlled by remote control! If you're going to be a professional, you need to act like one, where's your rhythm, girl? Katy is deflated. KATY Screw you! EDNA Excuse me, never mind your hands, I should wash your mouth out with soap! KATY WHATEVER! What the hell do you know? EDNA I know you need to shout it out, with some spirit! Katy storms back to her house. Slams the door shut. EDNA (CONT'D) I never said it wasn't good, Katy, I was giving constructive criticism! (to herself) Oh Edna, you old fool. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - MOMENTS LATER Katy runs into her room crying. Dives into bed, sobbing. Punches the pillow in frustration. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna turns the TV on in frustration. BANG! The TV wires blow. Edna jumps. The fuse box has blown, all the electricity in the house is out. Edna panics. She goes to the CD player but it's dead. She presses 'PLAY' over and over but without electricity it's useless. INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS Katy wipes her tears. When she hears Edna through the walls - EDNA (O.S.) (singing loudly) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. INT. EDNA'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS Edna waits by the wall. EDNA (CONT'D) (shouts) Come on! No one is watching. No excuses! (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. Beat. KATY (O.S.) (raps) I'm 15 but it's covid-19, ma life's postponed, its cut-throat, I need to get out! But don't. Edna smiles. EDNA LOUDER! INT. KATY'S BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS KATY (raps loudly) Forget school milestones! Don't you dare moan, can't you see all those new gravestones? / Pandemics profound, but I just miss knockin around, it's like a horror movie on the merry-go-round. / Fundamental touch disallowed, walls cavin in all around, this idle mind is like a devil's playground. Look around its lockdown, nothins allowed, stand 2 meters back n follow the signs on the ground. / Shoppin towns drown, incomes never found, debts on the compound, my mum's car's at impound. / His wife is dyin, her nurse is tryin, whizz kids' braincells we relyin, still the death toll is arisin'. / Mental strife n lockdown collidin, bad thoughts inside heightened, my boy from school took his own life (!), he died and ... Katy takes a beat. INTERCUT Edna feels for Katy. KATY (CONT'D) 15 like me his name was Ryan, I'll remember him as a titan (!) / Teens know nothin, now we know somethin - grief n bein frightened. Edna looks to her husband's picture. KATY (CONT'D) Be sleepin all day like a baby, stops the crazy, can you blame me for fallin into a depression daily? / No Katy, focus! I ain't lazy! Put all your thoughts into your rappin! Brain, please don't fail me. / But you, next door, battleaxe, you slayed all my raps, you're old as hell, but the bell rings, n you take another swing! Edna raises an eyebrow. KATY (CONT'D) Thing is, she can sing, like an angel with wings, told me plainly, keep rappin, n one day, they'll pay me. Edna smiles. KATY (CONT'D) ‘You’re free’! one day they’ll inform us, allowed out, shoppin n to the movies, ‘just go n live normal!’ / Holidays now lawful, got some flippers n learnin how to snorkel, ‘hey look there’s a snappin turtle!’ / Mind n body free, chains diffused, no more police watchin your every move, no more death n sad news, / Hug friends, meet up at Maccy D's, get some fast food, maybe meet somebody new, just wait, life’ll improve. EDNA (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. KATY (raps) I see you’re lonely right now, but look around, I’m right here next to thee, we even share the same ground. / Let’s turn frowns upside down, now I met you, hell, maybe we could even be friends, how does that sound? / Edna laughs. EDNA (sings) Can I make your lonely my new friend today? / Can I make your lonely my new friend always? / Cause I’m feeling lonely, lonely. / I’m lonely. KATY (raps) I'm lonely, it's LOCKDOWN! They both catch their breath. And smile.

Time Travel

The method of time travel is varied whether it be in The Doctor's TARDIS, or an old Delorean, it is mostly accepted that it will take an (unspecified) power source of a particular sort and some new kind of substance. Not too many have gone for the many dimension method though Star Trek's 'subspace' is a sort of time travel and it uses a type of space to which we currently have no access. The effect of time travel has usually been of two sorts. One where the smallest inadvertent thing changes the future completely, and the other is that time is immutable. Doctor Who suggests something in the middle; some events are fixed others, not. In a curious way this last might just be a keeper...

Implants, 2020 version

Following the theme of my posts on the future-present comes the "Neuralink" Elon Musk's version of the net I describe in the books. This indeed is an early version of the same relying on an 'outside-in' version of the tech. That is, one where we implant a chip and then 'plug' it into the brain. The system in the books is an inside-out version, that is, one where we implant a passive neural net that allows communication with the outside tech and the brain connects to it. If this were developed it would offer fewer chances for infection of mechanical failure, but getting neurons to make that connection and interpreting the signal correctly will be a big issue. Here though, is where we are;…/what-is-neuralink-and-how-does-i…

Chapter 26 - to the end of the story...

Thank you for getting this far, I am now working on re-drafting the story, If you want to read to the end of this draft of the story I am happy to send it to you if you email me here:

Chapter 25. Danger

Maeve stood outside in her garden breathing in the early evening air, the trees with new green tall above the incline of the back garden, the scent rising from the earth, the drift of sweet blossom. It was grounding Maeve. She couldn’t process all of Ada’s story, she knew it would take time. Now she needed to breathe. Maeve was deep in her mindfulness breathing when she was disturbed by a “Hello there neighbour!” This was the way Anne used to shout over the fence when she had some veg to share, briefly Maeve thought it was a voice in her own head. She looked over towards the fence and sure enough there was Anne.This time Anne went straight in with, “I don’t want to bother you but there are a few things I need and some you need.” This was too much for Maeve, she said, “I’m sorry Anne, I can’t. I can’t deal with this right now.” Maeve turned and went straight back into the house. “Ada it doesn’t matter how much you say I can, I can’t! I am not ready for this.”, and with that Maeve retreated to her bedroom and slammed the door shut. She needed to be alone. How could she make it stop. It was overwhelming. Ada’s story meant she had to rethink her childhood. She had to let go of the resentment which had been a driver for her actions and now she had to handle the new feelings of guilt. Maeve also had to face up to her ‘gift’. The people who talked to her in the hospital, maybe she could handle that, mostly they just wanted to say goodbye. But the ones like Susan, Kamal and Kevin were serious, these were murders and they needed a real champion, someone who would fight for them. Thinking of Kevin, Maeve added, it had to be someone who could be tough and handle them too! What was that old quote, ‘Life does not put things in front of you that you are unable to handle’, Maeve used to think that was true, right now she was not at all sure. She needed to clear her head and decide who she wanted to be, hero? Mother? Daughter? Or all three? Up on the University campus things were getting underway. The police community safety officers were organising the volunteers into logical groups to sweep across designated areas of the campus, making sure that altogether they would cover the entire open ground. Marieanne and Orla had joined the search just in time. They were told what to do, their group was to form at the back of Woody’s bar, just beyond the turning circle facing the green ‘open’ space, which was actually under cover of trees. They were to form a line with about a metre between each person and walk as one. As they gathered Orla heard a voice behind her, “you’re her daughter, aren’t you? They say it runs in families. Anyway I don’t have time, you need to know things. He has access to underground rooms in the Cathedral. We were looking for the anti-gravity powder and he could take us into locked rooms, he has keys, because of the archives.” “Are you Kevin?”, Orla was sharp to the point with her question. “Yes”, Kevin was a little reluctant, but trying to win her over he went on “I know, I know, it wasn’t wrong, I just wanted to know if the cabal were there, and she made them look.”, he smiled, very pleased with himself that his plan had worked even though he was disappointed with the result, “but this is real, this is where you will find him.” Orla was shooing him away “I don’t believe a word you say, what do you mean rooms under the Cathedral? Archives, access to locked rooms, anti-gravity powder? Do you think I would believe you when you have proved yourself to be a liar!” Marieanne was looking at her strangely, “are you talking to yourself?” This made Orla laugh, “it's just the way it is, but he is not a good spirit so I won’t talk to him. And now, ‘poof’, I can't even see him, that door is closed.” Marieanne was a little concerned, “sure you are okay?” Orla could be overconfident “never better!” They started getting into position when Orla heard a “Psst, over here.” Looking under the branches she realised that she was looking towards Parkwood Rd, and there was Anne. “I don’t want to bother your mother, she is having a difficult moment, but there isn’t much time, so can you give her a message?” Orla walked over to Anne so that no one would overhear the conversation and asked, “how are you?” Anne smiled, “you are a good girl, always were. I’m fine. In fact, I’m happy here, I’d appreciate it if you would pass that on, to Ray and the children. But the urgent business is that I know who killed me. On this side, it was a bit like waking up from a fuzzy sleep, my head is clear now. And once the family are okay and I have said goodbye I am happy to stay. But urgently I need your mother to tell the truth, and to stop him otherwise I will be tied here in Parkwood. Tell her this…..” Orla, dashed over to Marieanne, “I have to do something in town. When this walk is over, go and tell Mum and Ada that Anne remembers. I need to check it out but if she’s right we will find Adam. Finish this first because after Kevin we don’t know who to trust and Anne’s dementia might be fooling her.” Marieanne was of the view that they needed to do the logical as well as the spiritual, so she agreed with the sisterly warning, “don’t take any risks.” Orla grinned “Moi? Take a risk? Certainly not an unnecessary one!”, with that she was gone. They had finished their walk through in about half an hour. Nothing. The other teams were still going but Marieanne’s lot were told that they were done for the night. The days had been lengthening but it was now definitely dusk. Marieanne was hoping that she had done the right thing and the Orla would have got home before she did. It’s good to hope, but sometimes that can get you, or someone else, into serious trouble.

Chapter 24. Disaster.

Police descended on St John’s Stone House, with blue lights flashing and the battering ram or the enforcer, the ‘big red key’ as they liked to say. Actually they probably didn’t need it but as time was of the essence this was likely to be the quickest way of getting in. No one really believed that Adam was being held, the general view was that he might have gone to have a butcher and got stuck inside. That was reasonable. There was that embarrassing incident earlier in the year when a policeman got stuck in the toilet and his colleagues had used a battering ram to get him out. At least this time it was a member of the public. And it was urgent. They smashed their way in. Heaps of debris were blocking the doorway. The reason the building was derelict was abundantly clear. The fire had almost completely destroyed the first floor, most of which had collapsed onto the ground floor. They could smell stale urine and cold ash. Once fully inside they could see the rat tracks, and nests made by the occasional rough sleeper along with discarded plastic milk bottles still with traces of congealed sour milk and the telltale marks of drug use. No one had been inside this building in months if not years. Tim set to ridiculing Steve. Many of the rank and file thought it had been a reasonable call but they weren’t going to side with a detective over one of their own. Steve had known this was a risk but it was a risk worth taking if it saved a life. Now his name was mud, and Tim would make sure that everyone knew it. Frustrated and angry, Steve said nothing. Given the situation for Adam, they didn’t have time to dwell on it now, Steve knew the mocking would be relentless over the next weeks and months, but right now they needed to get back on track. Clearly talking to the dead was not going to help. Let’s refocus on traditional policing methods, he thought. Get the volunteer search underway. Tim would get one team on the campus first. Thinking wider he reflected that they probably needed to start looking at the rivers, this was more for a body than a living person, but as time passed, that would be the more likely outcome. Before he could get on with the real police business, Steve had to speak to Maeve. Steve didn’t mean to be cruel, but he was. Maeve was completely crushed. Steve hadn’t been able to vent his frustration to his colleagues, so Maeve got it all, both barrels. Up to that moment, Maeve had been on such a high, she had a strong sense of purpose, she knew how she could save the world, this bit had been the test. Now in one short phone call it all came crashing down. Ada had heard Maeve’s side of the call, followed by the silence and then the sobbing; which she guessed were tears of anger, frustration combined with a dose of self pity. Coming into the sitting room with two mugs of hot tea, Ada shut the door behind her so that they wouldn’t be disturbed. First Ada handed Maeve the box of mansize tissues, with a “do they think women have less tears,” which brought the drift of a smile across Maeve’s face as she pulled out a tissue, blew her nose and wiped her eyes, then Ada handed her the tea saying nothing. Maeve caught her breath, hiccuping subsided, all the while Ada was sipping her tea watching her. Eventually Ada started talking, “This may not be the perfect moment but it’s time I told you a thing or two. Then we can talk about your gift. I know ever since you were a little girl you have tried to find answers and I have always avoided or evaded telling you anything substantial. Well, it's only a week since I nearly died, and while I was in the hospital I made the decision that if I lived, I owed you an explanation. I promised myself I would tell you everything but only once, never to be mentioned again. This is the time. Here goes.” Maeve had been completely flattened, she had no strength left to say anything, so she sat back, both hands wrapped around her mug, grateful for the comfort of the hot drink. Ada went on, “Many years ago back in Ireland, I wasn’t long married, when joy of joys I found out I was pregnant. My God, I was so ignorant. I knew nothing about having a baby. I was convinced everything was going to be wonderful. The priest was delighted for us. The doctors were on hand. Sure, what did I have to worry about? I got through morning sickness, tough but fine. The middle trimester was great, I was full of beans, enjoying feeling the baby kick and the bump grow.” Ada paused, gathering her courage to tell this story that she had buried for over forty years, and not knowing quite how to get it out. “At the time we lived in Co. Louth and our local hospital was Our Lady of Lourdes. It was 1979, and rural Ireland was a different place then. The Catholic Church had great power over our lives. I didn’t know it but they were against the procedure of the Caesarean section. Although this was common in many hospitals there were those doctors with strong Catholic convictions who wanted something more ‘natural’, something they thought would help women get pregnant again and have big families. Well, as I am sure you have guessed by now, you were a large baby.” She stopped again, this time when Maeve turned to look at Ada she could see the tears flowing down her cheeks. No sobbing, just tears, and Ada was looking straight ahead as she said, “If I look at you now, I won’t be able to finish the story, so look away, please. I need to say this once and that will be that.” “There is a word for it now, it's called symphysiotomy. For Chrit’s sake, I trusted these people and they did this to me.” Ada was struggling with the anger she felt while trying to actually tell what had happened, “I was in labour, in the hospital and they explained that due to the size of the baby they were going to carry out a procedure. They didn’t ask permission, they didn’t explain what it was. Your father wasn’t there, men weren’t in those days. Then they showed me the saw. I said no, there must be a mistake, that couldn’t be for me. They told me to be quiet and said I had no choice, I shouted for help but no one came. They held me down and with a local anaesthetic they sawed the pelvis, through the bone.” Ada paused for a breath, “Thank God, that saw didn’t touch you. Others weren’t so lucky. After that I don’t remember much, it was over very quickly and there you were, wonderful, perfect, wrapped up and handed to me. You were the prize. Then after that horror, I was treated like all the other new mothers. Get up and walk, they said. The sooner you get back to normal the better. This was cruel, sadistic. The pain. I don’t think that there are words to describe it. And all alone. Get back to normal, they said.” At this Ada was rocking herself back and forth, the tears continuing to flow. Maeve couldn’t bear it, she filled her hands with tissues and wrapped her arms around Ada, love, tears and pain all merged. Ada accepted the embrace but wouldn’t look at Maeve, determined to finish she went on, “I promised myself that I would never speak of it again. Also that I would never have another child. Your father never fully understood what had happened. He still dreamed of his precious son. Well time is a healer, I recovered, but as you know I am not the most athletic.” Ada gave a short laugh, “yes, ‘not athletic’ is what I used to say. In reality I learned to live with the pain, I haven’t had a day pain free since then. We moved to England. And to Middlesex, that was for the hospital, your father thought ‘something could be done’. I was prepared to talk to the doctors because I was looking for pain relief. But I was never, ever, going through another birth, when he realised that, we grew apart. Of course he blamed you for his lost son. It became a habit to blame you for everything. His resentment made him mean to you. If I tried to help that made it worse. So I had to pretend I didn’t care. My escape was my gift to be able to talk to the dead. All the flamboyance was because I was damned if I was going to be defined by those cruel people. I needed to shine brighter. That was my pathetic way to prove that they couldn’t take my life away from me. Sadly, you too had a high price to pay, and I could say nothing. By the time I could, the words wouldn’t come. I had clenched my teeth for so long they just wouldn’t open. I tried a few times but nothing happened.” This time Ada turned to Maeve before going on, “I am so, so sorry, for your lost childhood. You were the only thing that made life worth living.” This time the hugs were two sided, they had really found each other. “This heart attack made me realise that you have to know, I can’t let this destroy your life too.” Ada stopped talking and they just hugged each other in silence. It was Orla who came in first. She had prepared a pasta bake with fresh basil, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Marieanne and Orla had seen the closed door, caught the tone of the conversation and kept out until there was silence. Knowing that Ada and Maeve would talk to them when they were ready, the two girls came in with steaming bowls of food. Orla said, “I know you need time, but this guy Adam doesn’t have time so Marieanne and I need to eat before joining the search party on the campus. We think you should eat too.” It was the break Ada and Maeve needed, Ada smiled as she looked at Maeve and said, “Haven’t you got two wonderful daughters! And don’t I have one too.” Now the girls knew they had been right to keep out of it, they had never seen such affection between their mother and grandmother. As they ate Marieanne explained that the school had been in touch looking for volunteers in the area so long as they had parental approval. The aim was to create a campus wide line to walk through the grounds in case he had collapsed and was in a coma just not visible. As Marieanne finished talking, Orla took the plates into the dishwasher, grabbed their jackets and was standing by the door shouting “hurry up! Let’s go.” With that they left Maeve and Ada still sitting much where they had been when they came in with the food. Maeve made herself and Ada some fresh tea and said, “I feel like my stomach has been hollowed out. What a shit daughter I have been, I never even tried to see things from your side. Never tried to guess that things might not actually be the way they seemed on the surface.” Ada replied, “Ah now, don’t do that to yourself. You were trying to get your father’s approval. He pushed me out and you had to do that too, just to survive. It’s all in the past now. We are here, we are alive.” It had been so emotionally draining that Ada needed to change the subject, “What about this young lad? Did one of the spirits lead you astray? They can be bastards!” Maeve, gave a heavy sigh, “yes, Kevin, I think he was on his own crusade. I didn’t trust him, but there was nothing else to go on.” With that Maeve put her head in her hands, “Mum, I don’t know if I can do this. All those unhappy spirits looking for closure. What if this happens again? If I get it wrong again, I am not as strong as you, I don’t think I can keep going.” “Don’t be ridiculous of course you are! Sure aren’t you the one that always stood up for your friends at school? Ms champion of justice, coming home to ask what a trade union was and could you form one. It’s one of the wonderful things about you Maeve, you will always go into battle for the underdog. Now let’s pull ourselves together and see what we can do. Take a 10minute break in the garden, breathe some fresh air, then come back and we will make a plan together.” Having something to do gave Ada the spark she needed to get back on track. Actually, she felt a lot lighter, a weight had been lifted. She had one more key piece of information to give Maeve, and she didn’t think they had the time to leave it for another day.

Chapter 23. A step too far.

Adam was now the most urgent focus of Maeve’s attention, she knew a bit about diabetes enough to be aware that if they don’t get their insulin in time people die of it. It’s not an exaggeration. Time was of the essence. This didn’t just focus her attention, it put a lot of pressure on her, this was both the test that she could do some real good in the real world and how she could turn her burden into a gift. As soon as she put the phone down from Steve, she talked to Marieanne, giving Marieanne the job of the family logistics for the rest of the day with a promise that she, Maeve, would devote her time to supporting Marieanne starting tomorrow morning. Marieanne, laughed at her mother, “you always do this, you need something to drive you. It’s fine. I get it. This time it really is urgent and someone’s life is counting on you. But even if it wasn’t you would make whatever you were doing important. That’s all good and I love you for it. But I am not counting on you to give things up for me, however I am asking you to save enough time for us too.” Maeve was duly chastised, recognising herself in Marieanne’s description, she gave her daughter a hug and a kiss, “I am so glad you are my daughter. You are wonderful and yes I promise we will still have family time.” Steve had told Maeve that the police team were working with the local authority to set up a search party. First the police community unit would start with a small team checking out the places that he was known to visit if they found anything he would let her know immediately. If they didn’t it would widen and the local authority were already contacting volunteer groups to have them on standby for a campus wide search before it was too dark. The University seemed to be a linking factor but Maeve was a little disappointed that there was no connection to the rocket society as that seemed to link Susan to Kamal and Kevin. She had been planning how to do some online research into their members and activities to see what that threw up. Now she thought, if I can do some searching at least I can check that out with Tony and if he doesn’t have the answers he will be able to access any information we might need because he’s a member of staff. Kamal’s warning made sure that she wanted some additional info to cross reference Kevin. But should she trust this man that she had only just met with her newly acquired secret powers, she needed the information, how much should she tell him? He had been very dismissive of the ‘ghost hunters tour’, would this make him think she was deranged? She would have to take the risk, they were running out of time. They had agreed to meet for a coffee at 4.30pm in the Gulbenkian cafe on campus. By this time Ada and Orla had arrived, and Marieanne had them up to speed. Orla said “as you have already brought me into this, I am coming with you, plus I think I need to check this guy out too.” Ada hadn’t wanted to be too pushy so she had waited a moment before suggesting, “ why don’t you get Orla and Marianne to do the internet research and you go and see if you can get anything out of Susan? Then maybe pop up to the campus if you have time to talk to Kevin too? I can make the tea.” They all looked at her, this was a new, more humble Ada. The media fiasco had clearly had an impact. It was an excellent plan, everyone set to. Maeve was walking as fast as she could. Susan was already waiting for her in the park, “I knew you needed to ask me something, and yes you are right it’s really urgent.” Maeve went through a number of questions and Susan was thoughtful as she answered, “yes I knew Kamal, he was a funny guy. Why the rocket society? Sometimes the foreign students would get involved with activities to have something to do, as a way to meet people. But Kamal was passionate about rockets, good to do fun experiments with but otherwise he seemed to avoid contact with students particularly the other Iraqis. Kevin? Vaguely, I can see him, always smoking cigarettes. He didn’t smell good, so I didn’t go too near him. Anyway, he didn’t like foreigners. He talked a lot, I overheard him talking to the others, ‘we needed to destroy the elite’ he didn’t like women, or gay men. But he knew everything about the university. He will have useful information for you.” Maeve was impatient, this added colour but wasn’t tangible information. She hoped the girls were having better luck. Orla met her on her way back to the house, saying “I’ll brief you on the way. Let’s take the car, that hill is a killer when you are in a rush.” Maeve smiled, Orla was being very practical, good to have on the team. On their way, Orla told her what they had found. Adam had come to UKC last autumn to start his PhD, his subject was early medieval archeology, and the great reveal was that his PI was one Dr. Tony Blackstone. “PI is principal investigator which means that they applied for the grant that pays for the work, it doesn’t mean that they actually do any of the work. They might, but they don’t have to.” “Do we know the subject of his PhD?”, Maeve asked, she had remembered Tony saying sometimes he had no signal, so it sounded like something underground or in a remote area away from any signal. “No, well I couldn’t find anything, it seems that they don’t say until it’s finished and published. But my guess is that it will have something to do with the Cathedral, I mean why else would you come to Canterbury?”, Orla was an efficient researcher and had a good command of the facts. Maeve knew they didn’t have much time, “so what do we say to Tony? Tell him the truth or go on with our ruse that you are trying to find the right University and I want to keep you close to home?” They were parking the car as Orla said, “go with the story, we might put him off with talking ghosts. Your line is ‘my daughter has been telling me tales of mysterious deaths connected to the University’ do you know anything to set her at ease? That way we can ask some direct questions.” “Good plan.”, Maeve was enjoying seeing Orla in this new light. They were both very aware that time was ticking by. Maeve definitely wasn’t in the right frame of mind to check out a potential new man. It was a good thing that Orla was there, she was great at wildly exaggerating lurid tales to lead Tony into revealing what he knew. “Yes, I knew Kevin, poor man. Helpful with practicalities of University life, heating, lighting and such like. Of course he was a conspiracy theorist, sometimes I worried that he might have acted on his theories. He probably knew where the bodies are buried so to speak,” Tony laughed at his own joke, “but there is nothing suspicious about his death, sad but not of concern, he broke his neck falling down the stairs in his own apartment. Nothing to worry about. And if Orla does decide to study here I can always keep an eye on her.”, Tony smiled a little patronisingly. “Now if you will excuse me, something urgent has come up. One of my students has gone AWOL, probably just lost his keys, the family are making a fuss so I have to go. But always happy to share my experience when I have the time. So don’t hesitate to book in another chat.” He flashed a smile at Maeve, and left them to finish their drinks. As soon as he had gone Orla didn’t hold back, “Mum, don’t you even look twice at him, he is so full of himself he would be unbearable. He is too neat, too clean, and in case didn’t you notice he has one ear pierced, so either he is too trendy for his age or he might not be interested in women.” This made Maeve laugh, “so glad I asked your opinion. Just because he is not your type which I guess might be with dreadlocks and a hand spun woolly jumper, doesn't mean he wouldn’t do for me.” It was time to check in with Steve, he gave his update first, so far they had no trace of Adam. He had left his rooms as normal, and from the stock left in the fridge they had been able to work out how much insulin he had with him. It was getting critical. The search had been escalated, they were working out the routes across the campus right now. With her fingers crossed and wishing that she had more hard facts, Maeve said, “I am convinced that there is a serial killer. If there is and Adam is being held then I believe that it's in the derelict building St John’s Stone House.” Steve replied with the unhelpful “you had better be right.” Maeve thought that Tony may be full of himself but at least he was entertaining, had lots of stories about his adventures, and wasn’t putting her under any pressure, right now, that made him pretty attractive. Steve also crossed his fingers when he pushed the team to divert men to the derelict site. His nemesis Tim had come in with a “no one goes in there since the fire, unless they are up to no good, or are hiding out. Is that what you are saying Steve? On a hunch you want to divert precious resources to go on a wild goose chase, your own pet project? This really isn’t the time for that.” Having made his statement, Tim hadn’t tried to stop them, in fact Tim was quietly hoping they would go and it would be a waste of time and he could heap scorn on Steve. Egos meant that they couldn’t have a proper planning session, Tim had been keeping Steve on the sidelines. Normally Steve would just step back but there was a life at stake. Weighing on his mind was the fact that if he had acted earlier on Maeve’s tip off he might have been able to save Anne. Maeve was desperate to know what was happening but she didn’t know how she could get involved. She didn’t have to wait long.

Chapter 22. The pressure is on.

“Jesus Christ! You frightened the life out of me. You shouldn’t creep up on people!’ Maeve said startled, she almost, but didn’t, wake Marieanne. Kamal, was calm, “is okay, she is asleep, and she can not hear me anyway. But you are distracted. I can feel that it is still urgent you find the killer. You need to do more research at the University.” Maeve had wanted at least a little time to get her life back to some level of normality, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. She sighed as she asked, “what am I looking for? I met Kevin, did you know him? I think he was like a Uni support staff, maybe he helped with equipment? Is he the guy I need to talk to?” Kamal, thought before he spoke, “yes, I know who you mean. I love Britain but he is part of the English I do not like. He pretended to be a friend but he is racist. He doesn’t always tell the truth, he twists facts. But he has information that will help you. Also you must look at others in the Uni. He was not alone.” Maeve was about to demand further names and details when she realised she was now talking to herself. They had turned off the motorway as Marieanne took a leisurely stretch and said “I can see the Cathedral, almost home. It’s only been two days but it feels like a real break.” Yes, Maeve thought, regardless of Kamal’s comments there wasn’t much she could do, it was late and tomorrow, on a Sunday normal offices are closed. She might get a day to spend with the family and catch up with the mundane like grocery shopping, then go full pelt on Monday morning. Sunday morning turned out to be one of those relatively rare glorious hot sunny days of early summer. On the spur of the moment Maeve suggested, “Why don’t we carry on with the holiday feeling and do something touristy before Ada and Orla get here?” Following Marieanne’s wishes they had had their Sunday morning croissants and coffee. “We could pretend we really are tourists and do one of those walking tours? I had thought of being a guide so it could be market research?”, said Marieanne as she joined in the spirit of ‘let’s get out of the house so that we don’t fall into a routine and miss the glorious day’. For Marieanne today was the last day of her ‘study break’, so to enjoy it, spending time with Maeve when it was just the two of them, was perfect. They got into town in time to join the 11am walking tour, whilst trying out their adopted tourist-like American accents, they were a bit giddy and definitely the naughty ones at the back. As they walked the tour got more interesting, their guide really knew his stuff. In fact when they had stopped laughing at each other and took a good look he was handsome, tanned, clean shaven and sharply dressed, he didn’t look like the usual fare. Well spoken and knowledgeable he’d shown them Elizabeth I’s ceiling in Cafe Nero, the pilgrim’s hostel, Dickens’ part of Canterbury, and the largest possibly oldest theatre in England, now the Three Tuns pub, which sits on part of the stage of the Roman theatre. One of the group put forward the theory, “if only the ghosts could talk, I bet there would be some hairy tales!”, to which he replied “that would be on the other kind of tour, there is a ‘ghost hunters tour’ if you are interested.” Their guide seems a little dismissive, but Maeve and Marieanne were both very happy to avoid the ghost hunters tour, they had had enough contact with the spirit world for the time being. As this was the end of the walk and they were standing outside the Three Tuns, they offered their guide a drink in the pub, which he accepted. Most of the group drifted away, a few lingered with specific questions, “is it true that there are tunnels under Canterbury to sneak in and out of the Cathedral? Was St Martin’s a Mithraic temple before it was a Christian Church?”, all of which he answered with patience, “yes there are tunnels under the city as you would expect given its age and the rock formation, yes we believe that St Martin’s Church was a temple dedicated to the Roman cult of Mithras. Thank you for all the interesting questions, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Canterbury.” Which was a reasonably elegant brush off and arrived in time for the cool lagers that Maeve and Marieanne brought to their table. He began with “Thank you. You both arrived a little after the others, I’m Tony Blackstone, and you are?” They introduced themselves and explained that they were in fact locals, Tony said “I thought you might be. I am a sort of local having been here for the last ten years.” Maeve was still intrigued, “are there really tunnels? I read about one being opened up in the Cathedral, but really it was just a passage under the main stairs to the altar. And if you don’t mind my asking how do you know so much? Are you part of the Archeological Trust?” He smiled “first things first. Yes it is believed that there is a tunnel from Buttermarket to the Cathedral, I guess for monks who missed the curfew, and yes some of this is my field, I am a lecturer in Archeology at the University of Kent. I like all of modern history, I think of it as a soap opera, the connections with Charles Dickens and Rupert Bear are fun, like gossip. But my real area is early medieval so I spend quite a bit of time in the Cathedral. They have an extraordinary library. Kent County Council also has a lot of fascinating documents if you are interested”, he sensed they might be losing interest. In fact far from getting bored Maeve had been wondering if he could help with some context around Kevin, “Maybe you could help?, I have been doing some research into UKC”, she said while looking at Marieanne to make sure that she would go along with her cover story, “we are looking at Universities for my younger daughter and she asked about extra curricular activities? Would it be okay to meet up sometime for a coffee and a chat, so that you can tell her what it's really like?” Maeve knew it was a bit cheeky but he was cute and Orla was a better liar than Marieanne. Tony, a gregarious person by nature, and flattered that Maeve so clearly found him attractive, gave off a sense that he might be aware that he was ‘God’s gift’, smiled a “sure, anytime.” Then a pause as he thought and went on “Actually, I guess you are going to take me up on that so what I really mean is anytime I am not in class or underground. I have to finish up some work I’m in the middle of right now, and the documents are held here in town in the Cathedral archives but if you are serious, then can I suggest that later today would work? Up at the University. I know I will be tied up during the week and Sunday’s are the best day for me.” They laughed as they walked home picking up a few bits for supper as neither had the energy to face a supermarket shop. Marieanne was doing the post-mortem “Yes, he was definitely good looking, and interesting, but did you not smell the aftershave? I would call that overpowering! So not my type plus he might be a little young for you Mum, but definitely far too old for me. Frankly, for you, I prefer your policeman, he may be a conservative with a small ‘c’, but he is kind, has a nice smile, and cheeky twinkly eyes which means he might be fun if we didn’t only meet him when there was a crisis.” Marieanne was thinking as she spoke and went on “Actually that is a good sign, he is good in a crisis, and we know that for sure!” Maeve laughed indulgently enjoying the more adult relationship she was developing with Marieanne. She was feeling pretty good about things in general, yes she did have work to do but now she might have an ally, who was good to look at and well he had almost made it a date. Her energy and good humour had been restored by last night's deep sleep along with the embracing family time; life was certainly interesting and she was ready to face it. It was mid afternoon when Steve called, “we have had a situation change at this end. The missing bloke, Adam Goodman is his name, he’s not a teacher, he was due to give a lesson but actually he is a PhD student at the University. More importantly his family have now been in touch and what we didn’t know is that he is a Type 1 diabetic. The family says that he always takes some emergency insulin with him and some sugar snacks, you know those fruit bars, and some glucose sweets. All of which means he’s okay for a day or two but he is likely to suffer hyperglycemia after that, so may be in a daze or fall into a coma. Everyone is different so no one knows exactly how long he can survive without insulin. He might be okay, but it's a matter of days maximum.” “What is he studying?”, was Maeve’s first question. “Archeology. I don’t have access to all of the files and as I explained, I am acting in a supporting role here, helping out a colleague… But any information that you can find out from your side might speed things up and might be the very thing that saves his life!” As Steve said the word ‘Archeology’, Maeve ever the optimist thought ‘is this just weird or is the universe trying to send me some help?’ The question she might have asked was, ‘or is the universe leading me astray?’

A Fleeting Smile

A cold breeze whipped across his face as he stepped out of the station. The chill in the air shocked him momentarily, forcefully reminding him that Christmas was rapidly approaching. He paused briefly, taking in the busy street ahead of him. Oxford Circus was bustling with tourists and Christmas shoppers, all walking into each other in their hurry to buy the latest clothes, gadgets or toys. His silent contemplation of the trial ahead was suddenly interrupted as a petite woman pushed past him to exit the station, sighing and rolling her eyes in frustration as she did so. Embarrassed and a little annoyed with himself, he hurried out onto the street, heading towards Selfridges, where he planned to do his own shopping. He squeezed past a large couple, who appeared not to have noticed the crowds trying to make their way past, and reached the crossing, slightly flustered. Using the brief pause as he waited for the lights to compose himself, he began making a mental list of the presents he was hoping to leave with by the end of the day. Handbag for Rosie (there was some specific brand she was keen on...Blackberry, maybe? Blueberry? Some kind of berry anyway - the shop people would presumably know), new iPad for Dad. Mum’s present was already sorted, thankfully - he’d booked her trip to Italy the minute he got this year’s bonus through (the rest of which was paying for Dad and Rosie’s presents). He finished his list just as the lights changed and, pleased with himself, got off to a quick start, beating the confused German next to him (who promptly stepped on two other people as he tried to ascertain which side of the road he was aiming for). He had just stepped onto the curb at the other side when he saw her. Hovering uncertainly near the window of Benetton, her dark blonde hair flying around her face in the wind, her large eyes blinking at the cold air, she drew his attention immediately. Her high heeled boots bringing her up to around 5’ 6”, she had an air of self-conscious confidence that reminded him of himself just after university - determined to prove to the world that he wasn’t lost or confused, he just didn’t know quite where he was right now… She finished rummaging in her bag, zipping it up purposefully and straightening herself before heading towards the crossing he had just left. She glanced up, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and the world stood still. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Instead he continued to walk, despite that fact that his brain had clearly disengaged, resulting in the following collision. “I’m so sorry. Are you ok? I didn’t realise I was still… I mean I thought I had… Oh dear, your bag!” Rambling incoherently, he stopped to help her gather her things, thanking his lucky stars they were still on the pavement. She seemed more confused than upset so, when he had handed over the last of her belongings, he did something unexpected: “I really am sorry - look, can I get you a coffee or something? To apologise? I promise not to spill it all over you...!” He held his breath as she looked at him, considering the suggestion. “Alright. I suppose it’s only fair to let you redeem yourself”, she smiled at him. “Where do you suggest?” His years in London finally proved an advantage, as he steered her smoothly towards St Christopher’s Place, stopping at the first little cafe they saw. “What can I get you? Coffee, tea, cakes, all of the above?” She smiled again, amused at his eagerness to please. “A cappuccino please and maybe half a brownie...if you’re happy to share?” He headed to the counter with alacrity, determined to get this right, prove to her that he wasn’t the bumbling idiot she’d seen so far. Returning to their table, he’d finally managed to regain his composure, though he still had to stop himself from apologising again. Their order arrived, steam rising from her cappuccino and his latte, the brownie oozing slightly as the chocolate melted. “So. As the injured party, I think it’s only fair that I should get first taste.” She smiled cheekily at him before scooping up a spoonful of brownie, indicating to him that he should do the same as it melted in her mouth. He laughed and followed suit. As they made their way through the brownie, they relaxed into the conversation, losing the edge of apprehension that comes from meeting a stranger and chatting as if they had been friends for years. He learned that she was an artist. She had studied fine art at St Martin’s and wanted to be an illustrator. Sally (her name was Sally, she told him, in return for learning that his was Richard) had already sent her portfolio to a number of publishers in the hope that they might have projects that would be suitable. Out of 15, she had managed to obtain a response from only one, but that had resulted in a meeting, which would take place the following day. She had come up to London from Sussex, where her parents lived, but hoped to move there one day, once she could afford it. By the time they left the cafe, he had wished her luck for the following day and had convinced her to give him her number and agree to a ‘debrief’ session after her meeting. Overwhelmed with his success, he hurried through the rest of his shopping, succeeding in finding Rosie’s bag (Mulberry, the shop assistant assured him) and his father’s iPad before Selfridges closed for the day. He walked home in a daze, reliving their meeting, and was twice lucky not to be run over. By the time he went to bed, he had married her several times over, chosen the song for the first dance and named all of their children (they would either have two, a boy and a girl, or possibly three, a boy followed by twin girls). * He walked briskly towards the restaurant, completely oblivious to the two people he stepped on on his way. It was the best idea. It made so much sense, surely she would agree? Nevertheless, he was nervous. It had only been six months after all, maybe she would think it was too soon... He’d been thinking about it since she’d won the commission for that first children’s book - she needed to be in London, she was starting to get work, but she’d be able to speed things up so much if she was freer to go to meetings regularly. Alright, she couldn’t really afford it yet, but that was what made it such a good idea. In his preoccupation, he strode confidently past the door, realising two shops along and embarrassedly turning on his heels and returning the way he had come. She was already there, sitting by herself at their table, idly watching people come and go. He stopped for a minute before sitting down, taking the time before she saw him to remind himself again of how lucky he was. She jumped when he sat, so absorbed was she in the fate of one particular waiter, who had dropped two things already and seemed perpetually on the brink of dropping his third. He smiled to himself, then suggested they order. The food, when it arrived, was good and she was in good form, having secured a commission for the illustration of a trilogy that morning, but he was struggling to focus. Any time there was a lull in conversation, he found his thoughts drifting. He finally gave up when their pudding arrived, interrupting her anecdote just before its punchline. “So… with this trilogy, you’ll probably have to come up to London a lot more.” She nodded. “So I was thinking, that must get very annoying. Maybe it would be better if you lived in London?” She looked at him blankly, waiting for him to clarify. “Well?” “Well what? Would it be easier to live in London? Of course it would. You know I can’t afford it.” “Oh. Sorry. I meant with me. Did I not say that?” She started to laugh, helplessly giggling as he looked increasingly annoyed at her reaction. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry...You’re just such an idiot sometimes.” He sighed and rolled his eyes at her, waiting for her response. She finally composed herself for long enough to say something. “Ok, ok. Firstly, thank you. that’s incredibly sweet of you. I guess it depends on how much you’ll want in rent. I can probably afford up to about £600 a month, does that sound like enough?” She looked at him slightly anxiously, hoping that this might be the solution to her problems. He smiled at her eager expression, before telling that £600 a month was plenty - as long as she was sure she could cope with living with him. To his great irritation, this prompted another fit of the giggles before Sally was able to set his mind at ease. Rolling his eyes at her yet again, Richard moved the conversation on to the question of timings - when would she tell her parents, how long did she think it would take her to pack, he was free next weekend, was that too soon - so that by the time they left the restaurant, they had a firm plan to move Sally to London in two weeks. * “You’re back! How did it go?” “Great, they loved them! They got so excited, they signed me up for the whole series on the spot. We went out for drinks to celebrate, which is why I’m a bit late… Apparently they’d been looking for an illustrator for three months, so I can imagine they were a bit sick of it…” “Wow! Congrats! We should do something to celebrate this weekend. Oh, that reminds me - have you eaten yet?” “Nope, I wanted to wait ‘till I got home to you…” “Aw, how sweet… I’ve made stir fry, that ok?” “Sounds perfect!” * Thank God. After a long and stressful week, Richard was home at last, he couldn’t wait to sit down in his cosy sitting room with a nice warm meal and just forget all about it. He turned his key in the lock smiling with anticipation, only to find it wouldn’t budge. Perplexed, he tried it the other way - it had been stressful, after all, maybe he’d just forgotten which way it turned - and succeeded in turning the key, hearing a satisfying clunk as the lock opened. He pushed the door. He pushed harder. After the third try, he put his key back in the lock and tried the other way again. Finally the door opened. “For God’s sake”, he muttered to himself, “the fucking thing was open all along.” “Sally? Sally, are you here?” Hearing no answer, he made his way through to the kitchen, tripping over a bin that had been left lying in the hall as went. As he surveyed the carnage in the kitchen, the plates covered in crumbs, the cups half full of tea, the food sitting open on the counter, he heard the sitting room door open. Sally poked her head out, looking surprised and concerned at the racket. The moment he saw her face, Richard’s anger melted away and he smiled at her. “What’s all the noise?”, she asked, confusedly. “Oh, nothing - I just tripped over this bin”, he explained, gesturing towards the bin in question. “Any idea why it might be out here?” She looked in the direction he was pointing and swore loudly on seeing the bin. “I’m so sorry - I took it out to change the bin liner and I must have forgotten it. Here, let me put it away.” * Richard opened the front door, sighing to himself as he saw the trail of plates, cups, book and general rubbish strewn along the hall. He knew Sally was out tonight, so there was little point in getting angry… but he did wish he could come home to a clean house once in a while… He put his coat and briefcase down in the bedroom before beginning to pick up the mess Sally had left behind. * It had been a long week and Richard was looking forward to a quiet night in with Sally, after six days of late nights, weekend work and deadlines. He turned his key in the lock, tutting to himself as he realised the door had been left open again. He hated it when Sally did this - didn’t she realise how easy it would be for any random stranger to walk into his house? His relief at being home was beginning to wear off, as he anticipated the mess he knew he would find inside. He walked into his bedroom, intending to drop off his bag and coat as usual before beginning to clear up and was startled to find his right foot sliding out from under him. He skidded uncontrollably across the floor for a minute or two before regaining his balance, heart beating wildly. When he had recovered from the shock, he began casting around for the culprit, finally spotting the be-crumbed plate lying in the centre of the room, where it had slid after he lifted his foot off it. He could feel himself getting angrier, all semblance of post-work calm evaporating as he contemplated yet another evening spent tidying and cleaning to return the flat to a livable state. Just as he reached his angriest, he heard a slight click as the front door opened. “Sally! Where the hell were you?!” “...I had a meeting… What’s up with you?” “What’s up with me?! Maybe the fact that the fucking door was left unlocked, the kitchen is a fucking state and I nearly broke my fucking legs tripping over this fucking plate YOU have left out! Is the idea to make my house so filthy that any burglar coming in through the door YOU left open would decide not to steal all my stuff?” “Your stuff? Your house? What happened to ‘You pay rent too, it’s as much your flat as mine’? Was that all just to get me to move here?!” “That was something I said before I realised ‘moving into my house’ meant trashing my house! For God’s sake, you’re an adult!” “Well, fuck you.” She sniffed and a tear crept out and trailed along her cheek. “I had some amazing news today, some news I was looking forward to sharing with you and now you don’t wanttohearanythi….” The end of her sentence trailed off as she burst into tears, her disappointment at his reaction overwhelming her. “Oh no, Sally, don’t cry…” He ran over to comfort her. “I’m so sorry, it’s been a long week and I just overreacted, I’m sorry… Look it’ll take 5, maybe 10 minutes to clean it all up and then we can have a lovely supper, how does that sound?” She sniffed again, visibly pulling herself together. “I’m so sorry Richard. I never meant for you to come home to such a mess - I thought I’d be back much sooner, but the meeting overran...” They hugged silently for a minute, before Sally picked herself up. “Now. Do you want to tidy while I cook or the other way around?” * The door opened with a crash, as it knocked some shoes left in hall, which clipped a table leg, tipping the precariously balanced stack of plates over the edges. Two of the plates shattered, while a third miraculously bounced and righted itself on the floor. “For fuck’s sake.” He sighed and rolled his eyes, walking past the mess to the bedroom, where he put down his briefcase and took of his shoes. He placed them carefully at the bottom of his wardrobe, in a line with the rest of his belongings, then left the room in search of his girlfriend. “Sally? Sally..? SALLY!” At the last yell, her head popped out from the study, where she had been immersed in work. “WHAT?!” she snapped. “Why the FUCK is the hall full of plates?” he asked, enunciating every word with exaggerated precision, “Oh, wait, no - I meant bits of plate.” “Really? You interrupted my work for THIS?” She tutted irritably and turned to go back into the study. “Sally. This is important. I can’t keep living like this - I’ve had to clean the house every night for the last month, because it’s such a state by the time I get home.” “Well, no one’s making you. I’ve told you a million times I’ll clean it up myself, you just have to let me finish working first!” “You don’t finish work till midnight - we haven’t gone to sleep together in weeks!” “So I’ll clean at midnight. So what?” “So, you wake me up. you may not have to get up ‘till 10, but I have to be in the office by 7!” “Oh, and that makes you more important than me? I work best in the evening!” “I’M NOT TRYING TO STOP YOU! How many times?! You can work whenever you want, just don’t be so fucking inconsiderate about it!” “I’m inconsiderate? I’M INCONSIDERATE?! At least I would never interrupt you in a client meeting to complain about housework!”
“That’s not same and you know it isn’t!” “Why, because my work doesn't count? My work isn’t real work? Fuck you Richard.”
He sighed, dropping his shoulders in defeat. “Fine. I can’t argue with you anymore Sally, I just can’t. I think you should move out, it’ll be best for both of us.” She stared at him in shock, which turned to anger as she realised he meant it. “You think you can live without me Richard? Well fucking fine. I’m going. I’ll stay in a hotel tonight and pick my stuff up tomorrow. You won’t see me again.” She stalked out through the door, her fury evident with every step. The door slammed behind her, her departure echoing through the house. *** Hovering uncertainly near the window of Benetton, her dark blonde hair flying around her face in the wind, her large eyes blinking at the cold air, she drew his attention immediately. Her high heeled boots bringing her up to around 5' 6", she had an air of self-conscious confidence that reminded him of himself just after university - determined to prove to the world that he wasn’t lost or confused, he just didn’t know quite where he was right now… She finished rummaging in her bag, zipping it up purposefully and straightening herself before heading towards the crossing he had just left. She glanced up, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and the world stood still. Richard held his breath for a moment, before realising he was still walking. At the last minute, he managed to avoid a head-on collision, sidestepping her just as her partially open bag dropped to the floor, its contents cascading out into the paths of a hundred strangers. He leapt to her aid, gathering purses, hairbrushes, makeup and returning them to her before all her worldly possessions were scattered into oncoming traffic. He found himself slightly embarrassed in the face of her effusive reaction, but nevertheless accepted her invitation to coffee ‘to thank him’. And so, in the Starbucks on Bond Street he learned her name was Sally, she was hoping to become an illustrator and wanted to live in London, though she couldn’t afford it yet. He left with her number and the promise of a debrief after her important meeting the following day. * “Ok, so you’re all packed?” “Yep! Everything except my toothbrush!”
“Great. I’ll get there tomorrow at around 9, so we should have tons of time to load up the car and move your stuff up here.” “Sounds perfect - Mum might be in her pyjamas though, so as long as you can cope with that…” “I think I can handle it… Cool, I think that’s everything - oh actually wait! I was thinking it might be worth getting a cleaner, but I wanted to run it by you first, as you’ll be in the flat more than I will…” “Really? Do you think that’s necessary?” “Oh, I just figured it might help avoid arguments over whose turn it is to clean the bathroom or who left that plate lying around…” “I don’t know, I mean I’m pretty tidy - it just feels like it might be a bit of a waste, no?” “Well, how about we try it and if we don’t think it’s helping, we can get rid of her after a few weeks?” “Yeah, that works. I’m so excited! I can’t believe I’m moving to London!” “See you tomorrow!” * He glanced up nervously, thinking he had heard the doorbell ring, then looked back at his newspaper. The cleaner wasn’t due for another 5 minutes, and he was finding the waiting stressful. Richard was used to cleaning for himself and wasn’t sure quite how he would feel about having someone else in his house every weekend (as Sally worked on weekdays, they felt it might be too distracting to have another person invading her space). The bell rang loudly, breaking into his anxious speculation and he jumped up to answer it. He opened the door and stood staring gormlessly, every word of welcome forgotten. At the door stood the most beautiful girl he had seen in his life - bar none. Her polite greeting roused him sufficiently to usher her in and, having offered her a cup of tea, he explained what needed to be done. Pleasantries over, he left her to it, heading out to meet Sally for lunch. She had spent the morning with some friends of hers from university and he was looking forward to seeing her again. * Richard glanced up at the sound of a key turning in the lock and smiled at Marianna as she walked in. Though she had only been cleaning their place for the last four weeks, he already felt that he knew her well. As a cleaner, she had proved to be efficient and thorough, turning a chaotic flat covered with shoes, bags and random pieces of crockery into a sparklingly clean and tidy home. This was the third time he had been in the flat when she cleaned and he had found her friendly and chatty, continuing to clean as they swapped anecdotes about their respective weeks. He had begun to find himself looking forward to her arrival - he had seen less and less of Sally in the last few weeks as she worked late (often coming to bed two or three hours after he had gone to sleep) and spent most of her weekends with her friends, saying she needed some excitement after her quiet weeks. * He could feel the butterflies forming in his stomach as he sat at the breakfast table with his coffee, watching the clock tick ever closer to 10. He couldn’t quite believe how soon she would be here - because of her holiday, it had now been almost three weeks since he’d seen Marianna and he couldn’t wait. If it occurred to him that this excitement was inappropriate for a man who had been living with another woman for the last four months, he brushed it aside, telling himself that he was simply looking forward to seeing a friend and to having some company in the flat. Right on time, the key turned in the lock and in walked Marianna. She was just as beautiful as he remembered, her long blonde hair shimmering down her back as she took off her coat and sorted out her cleaning things. They began chatting almost immediately, Marianna filling him in on her two weeks in Spain as she cleaned the kitchen floor, while Richard listened, interjecting little jokes as she talked. They worked their way through the house, Richard chatting and Marianna cleaning until she had finished all but the entrance hall. She carried the bucket of water in carefully, setting it down gently on the floor before turning to pick up her mop. Finding it, she began her work on the hall, listening to Richard’s latest story about his stupidest client. So engaged was he in relating this story that he failed to notice his left foot approaching the carefully placed bucket of water. The next thing he knew, Marianna was jumping to rescue the bucket as its soapy contents emptied themselves over the floor. His heart sank. How could he have knocked this over, he had ruined all her hard work. He knew he was clumsy, but this was a step too far. He rushed to help, succeeding only in colliding head first with Marianna, sending her falling to the floor. He bent down to help her up, muttering incoherent apologies which petered out as she lifted her large blue eyes to meet his.He wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but the next thing he knew he was kissing her, feeling happy for the first time in months as she kissed him back. His happiness intensified, overwhelming him completely - that is, until he remembered that Sally was due back any minute now. He leapt away from Marianna, nearly pushing her over in his haste to get away. She looked at him, hurt and confused. “I’m so sorry Marianna, I really am. But Sally will be coming back and we shouldn’t be doing this, it isn’t fair to her. Or to you. I...I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for from this, but no matter what I’ll need to speak with Sally first. I think I need to work out what’s going on with us before I think about anything else. Is that ok?” She sighed and looked down. After a minute or two of silence, she lifted her head, smiling sadly at him. “Of course that makes sense Richard. I think maybe I should stop cleaning here while you work that out though. I’ll send a replacement next week.” With that, she got to her feet and began picking up her things, checking to make sure she hadn’t left anything behind, then letting herself out quietly. * Two days later, Richard had convinced Sally to finish work early so they could eat together. He had ordered Chinese, which was already distributed between their two plates and waiting by the time Sally stopped work and joined him, twenty minutes late. “So what’s all this in aid of? Are you just missing me so much you felt the need to bribe me with Chinese?” “I just thought we should talk, you know. I don’t see a whole lot of you and…” “And?” “Well, last week… Um… Marianna won’t be cleaning for us anymore.” “...Why not?” Richard couldn’t bring himself to tell her what had happened, so he ate some more noodles as the silence between them lengthened. “Richard? What did you do?” He looked down at his plate, struggling to find the words to explain. Sally continued to wait, icily angry. Finally, as the silence became too hard to bear, Richard began to speak, his words falling over each other in his hurry to get them out, explaining that he didn’t know what had happened or how it had happened, that it was all because he missed her and hadn’t seen her in weeks, that he felt like they were drifting… As he ran through his list of excuses, Sally looked increasingly disappointed, finally interrupting him. “You know what the sad thing is Richard? I’m not even sure I care.” With that, she walked away, leaving her food to congeal on her plate, slowly starting to pack up her things as he sat, stunned at how fast things seemed to have changed. He still hadn’t moved when, two hours later, she came over to tell him that she was leaving to stay with a friend, and would return for her belongings the following week. *** Hovering uncertainly near the window of Benetton, her dark blonde hair flying around her face in the wind, her large eyes blinking at the cold air, she drew his attention immediately. Her high heeled boots bringing her up to around 5' 6", she had an air of self-conscious confidence that reminded him of himself just after university - determined to prove to the world that he wasn’t lost or confused, he just didn’t know quite where he was right now… She finished rummaging in her bag, zipping it up purposefully and straightening herself before heading towards the crossing he had just left. She glanced up, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and the world stood still. Richard held his breath for a moment, before realising he was still walking. At the last minute, he managed to avoid a head-on collision, turning to catch the partially open bag that was spilling out of her arms. Clutching her belongings, he followed her off the crossing and out of the way of the tourists, pausing only to pick up a hairbrush that had escaped his grasp. Once out of the way, they stopped, giving the girl a chance to catch her breath and repack her bag. Order restored, she turned her attention to her rescuer, immediately inviting him for a coffee to thank him. * Dropping his head, Richard sighed. He had been interviewing cleaners all morning, before Sally’s arrival, but had yet to find one who seemed suitable. They had agreed that the best time for a cleaner to arrive would be early on a weekday, when Richard was in work and Sally was normally in bed. As she said herself, having a stranger wandering into her home seemed likely to prompt her to get out of bed and ‘sort her life out’. The doorbell rang and he dragged himself out of his armchair, hoping against hope that this, his last interview of the day, would prove productive. He faltered for a moment as he answered the door, finding himself face to face with possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She introduced herself as Marianna and proceeded to start the interview by describing to him exactly what, in her opinion, needed cleaning in the house as it was and how she would go about it. After a few questions, it became clear that she was by far the strongest candidate, so Richard invited her to begin cleaning the following Thursday. After all, he told himself, he wouldn’t be in when she was cleaning, so her looks didn’t really matter one way or the other. * “So, my most beautiful of Sallys, I was thinking we could maybe go out for lunch? There are a few good places around here I still need to show you!”
“That sounds amazing! I am meeting my friend Lucy at 2 though, is that ok? We could maybe go before?” “Um… Sure, yeah, we can do that. We’ll make it coffee and go at 11! There’s an amazing little cafe that just opened up, so we could maybe try that? Apparently their chocolate cake is unbelievable” “Mmmm, that sounds delicious… Just like you…” * “So, how do you feel about getting that lunch we talked about last week? There’s a pizza place around the corner?” “Oh, I’m meeting Sophie for lunch, then I’m seeing Julia - how does supper sound?” “Yeah, supper works. I think the pizza place shuts, but we could go to the pub down the road?” “Great, I’ll meet you there at 7? I can’t stay out too late though, I’m getting up early to go shopping with Lucy tomorrow.”
“With Lucy? I thought you saw her last weekend?” “Yeah, but that was lunch. This is shopping. Completely different, silly!” “Is that right? Well, I feel educated…” * “Sally, you about today? Sal?” Richard pulled himself out of bed and wandered out of their bedroom, in search of his girlfriend. After a few minutes spent fruitlessly looking in various different rooms, he found a note on the table “Out with the girls, likely to be back late. See you later, much love. x” Feeling a little disappointed, he ambled back to their room and climbed back into bed. Working late during the week, he savoured his lie-ins at the weekend, making it all the more disappointing that he wouldn’t be able to share this one with Sally. It was the third week in a row that he’d woken to find her gone and he knew better than to try to arrange to meet her later - she would already have plans and tended to get irritated with him for making her feel guilty. Instead, he texted her suggesting lunch the following day, then put his phone down, not expecting a reply for the next couple of hours. He drifted in and out of sleep for a while until he was woken at 11 by his phone buzzing with Sally’s reply. “Out tomorrow. Maybe next week?” He was overwhelmed with a sense of desolation. He hadn’t realised quite how much he had been counting on seeing her that weekend. With their weekday schedules out of sync, he felt as though he had been living alone for the last few weeks. Struck by a sudden thought, he brightened. He could come home early on Monday. They weren’t restricted to weekends, it was the perfect solution! “How about Monday evening? I’ll make sure I’m back by 7, we can go somewhere nice? xx” The reply came back almost immediately, surprising him somewhat. “For God’s sake Richard, you know I work week nights! We can do next weekend.” He sighed, disappointed but not entirely surprised at her exasperated tone. She had been increasingly impatient with his attempts to spend time together in the last few weeks, something he was finding difficult to handle. Oh well. He called up Simplicity, the nicest restaurant in their area, to make a reservation for the following Saturday, determined to make this happen, then set about deciding what to with his weekend. * He drummed his fingers on the table, smudging the shine slightly, as he tried to drown out the ticking of the clock. He’d been sitting inside Simplicity for 20 minutes now and Sally had yet to arrive. He had left a note on her desk the previous weekend with the details of the booking, but hadn’t had the chance to see her during the week, as he’d been working in Paris all week. He had sent her a text this morning confirming the time and place, but hadn’t yet had a reply. Giving up, he picked up his phone and called her. The phone rang three times, then redirected to voicemail. Now a little concerned, he left a message reiterating where he was and asking her to call him when she got the message. Knowing she rarely checked her voicemails, he also sent her a text checking she was ok, then decided to wait another ten minutes before leaving. Just as he was beginning to gather his belongings, his phone buzzed with a message from Sally. “Richard. I told you I was meeting Emma this weekend. Why did you book lunch for today? x” His head dropped as he read it, the sense of injustice at her reply (she definitely hadn’t told him) competing with the sadness he felt at missing out on seeing her yet again. Sighing heavily, he picked his things and, apologising to the staff, left the restaurant and headed back to his empty flat. * A few weeks later, Richard turned his key in the lock, letting himself into the flat. He was tired, but feeling pleased with himself. It had been a busy few weeks, but today he had managed to get home by six thirty, which was unheard of and, to top it all off, had just heard that they had won the big pitch they had been working on for months. He entered the flat, putting his briefcase down and hanging his jacket on the coat hook by the door. He took off his shoes as he walked into their bedroom, catching sight of himself in the mirror as he did so. He definitely looked tired. There were dark circles under his eyes and his skin had suffered from the stress and exhaustion. He decided then and there that he needed to take a good long break to recover fully, and resolved to book it the following morning. He wandered into the kitchen, planning to make himself something comforting for supper, when he saw the note on the table. “Hey Richard, Come get me from the office when you get in - I want to talk to you Sally xxx” Confused and slightly apprehensive, Richard obeyed, knocking on the office door as he opened it. Sally looked up at him and smiled, putting down the picture she was working on. She got up from her seat and walked to the door, before suggesting they head to the kitchen and share a drink. Drinks in their hands, they sat at the table, Richard waiting for Sally to begin. She looked at her drink, then took a deep breath. “Richard, I’m sorry. I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve been running around seeing my friends and working and I haven’t made time for you.” Richard smiled at her and reached across the table to take her hand. “Wait. I’m not finished. Sorry.” She pushed his hand away gently and carried on. “It isn’t fair on you. But, I’m not sure it’s something I can stop. I’m so sorry Richard, but I just don’t think I’m ready to settle down like this. I think you’re amazing, but I’m only 23. I’ve just moved to London, all my friends are here and I want to spend time with them. If I weren’t working so hard I’d have time for you both, but at this point in my career I need to be putting the hours in or I’ll never make it. I just don’t think this can work.” She looked up at him nervously, waiting to see how he would take it. He looked at her blankly. He was devastated - how could she have led him on like this? After all he had put up with, to break up with him this casually… how dare she?! And sitting there staring at him - it was like she expected him to thank her or something! How fucking selfish of her too, to pick a Friday night, guaranteeing his weekend would be ruined… He sat quietly for a while, nothing in his expression revealing the seething turmoil that was going on inside. He was determined not to let her know how much he cared. He cleared his throat and finally managed to answer her. “You’re right. This relationship hasn’t worked for a while. I think we’ll be better off when you leave.” “I’ve already packed up my things - Lucy’s coming to pick me up. I’ll stay the night at hers. I should be able to collect all my stuff tomorrow, so I’ll be out of your hair soon. I’m so sorry Richard.” She leaned across the table and kissed him on the cheek. Tears formed in his eyes and he sat, fighting back the rush of emotion, telling himself over and over that it was all for the best. He was so absorbed in his own thoughts he didn’t notice Sally leaving until the door shut behind her. *** He had just stepped onto the curb at the other side when he saw her. Hovering uncertainly near the window of Benetton, her dark blonde hair flying around her face in the wind, her large eyes blinking at the cold air, she drew his attention immediately. Her high heeled boots bringing her up to around 5' 6", she had an air of self-conscious confidence that reminded him of himself just after university - determined to prove to the world that he wasn’t lost or confused, he just didn’t know quite where he was right now… She finished rummaging in her bag, zipping it up purposefully and straightening herself before heading towards the crossing he had just left. She glanced up, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and the world stood still. Their eyes met, leaving Richard with the strong impression that he was anchored to the spot. She had such beautiful blue eyes, he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her. She smiled at him and his world crumbled. His mind was filled with visions of their future together, of the wonderful couple they would make, of how beautiful she would be in a wedding dress, of them laughing and joking in his flat… A sudden jolt of pain brought him back to reality and in his momentary shock at having been stood on by a pair of new stilettos brushing past him, he lost her in the crowd. Wistful at the thought of what might have been, Richard hurried on to Selfridges, the hustle and bustle of Oxford St shaking the images of his future with the girl out of his head.

A Seller of Dreams

It’s a grey November day and you’ve slept longer than you should have. You’ve rushed through your morning routine, struggled into your work clothes and you’re finally heading out the door. As you hurry down the street to the bus stop, you notice a stall has been set up across the road from your house. It seems to contain some unusual objects, but you’re running late, so you don’t stop to have a look. By the time you come home that night, you’ve forgotten all about the strange little stall perched opposite your house. You’re irritated after a frustrating day at work and all you want is to collapse into your sofa and turn your brain off for the next few hours. You’re just nearing the path down to your front door, when a large figure looms next to you, making you jump. “You’re looking fatigued, drawn, worn out”, his voice croaks in your right ear. You turn, facing the presence that is making you so uncomfortable. As you look at him, you see that he is not a big man. He wears a thick coat, giving the impression of bulk, but he is actually on the scrawny side. He has a half-hearted little moustache and twitchy eyes, making you think of some kind of rodent. He is the kind of man you would normally avoid, but he’s talking to you now and you’re too polite to walk away from him in mid-sentence, a trait you silently curse yourself for as you listen to what he has to say. “I have something for how you’re feeling.” His scratchy voice irritates you, grating every time he speaks. It seems to get right into your skin, creating an itch that nestles just behind your ears. You ignore the feeling, hoping you’ll be able to extricate yourself from the conversation and get home soon. “So, is it something that would interest you?” You’ve gathered that he sells some kind of tonic and, relieved that he has got to the point, you’re preparing yourself to decline the offer, when he pauses and looks at you shrewdly. “I’ll tell you what,” he says, before you can gather yourself to utter your polite, but firm, refusal, “you can’t be making decisions like this the way you’re feeling. I’ll give you this one for free - you can find me when you want more.” With these words, he reaches out and taps you twice on the shoulder, before shooing you home. You’re in such a rush to go, that you miss his parting words, but you catch the tail end: “...five minutes”. Too tired to work out what just happened, you let yourself into your house, breathing a sigh of relief once inside. You kick your shoes off before flopping backwards onto your bed, too tired to even think about putting anything away. It’s dark outside and your weary body is refusing to believe that any of its surroundings are real, disconnecting you from the world. You lie still, enjoying the odd sensation, and are surprised to find yourself feeling happier. In fact, you don’t just feel happier, you feel pretty damn ecstatic. You ponder this for a minute, realising that of course you feel ecstatic. Why wouldn’t you? After all, you’re currently lying calmly in THE house. You know the one… The one you used to walk past and dream about. The one you were going to buy once you got rich. Surrounded by parkland. It might even have deer in the grounds. That one. You can’t believe you forgot that you own the house. You get to your feet, wondering what else you might have forgotten. You wander past the photos of yourself shaking hands with various luminaries and you remember the job. How could you have forgotten about your job? Your job that you love every minute, your job that pays you well (extremely well, judging by the house), but still lets you make a real difference in the world. Wow, you can’t believe you thought you were having a bad day - this is a great day. All of your days are great days! You’re still feeling a bit tired (even though it’s been a GREAT day), so you decide to wander to your Jacuzzi - that’s right! You have a Jacuzzi too! - and soak yourself in the hot bubbling water, melting away that odd tension you’re still feeling, despite the greatness of the day. After twenty minutes or so, you drag yourself out of the Jacuzzi and hop into the shower. As the warm water mists around you, you feel that nagging stress start to vanish, replaced by a deep contentment. Clean and refreshed, you think about wandering to the kitchen to pick up some food, but you decide a quick nap might be better for you and head for bed instead, drifting off to sleep within five minutes of laying your head on the soft, fluffy pillow. You wake up after about half an hour, feeling groggy, fighting back a thumping headache. You glance out the window at your suburban street, puzzled by a strong sense of displacement. You’re not quite sure what just happened, but you have the vague sense that it had something to do with that strange man on the street. He..touched you? Pushed you maybe? You’re not sure why, but the feeling that he somehow caused your dream - at least you think it was a dream - persists. You shake your head slightly, pulling yourself together. It must be late by now, you need to think about food. You check the clock: it’s almost a quarter past seven … but… you only got back at five past. You check your phone, thinking that the clock must be wrong - you know you slept for a couple of hours at least. But no, your phone agrees with the kitchen clock, you must have just drifted for five minutes or so. You pull yourself together and pull open your fridge door to see what you have to eat, surprising yourself by discovering some edible leftovers from two nights ago. Pleased, you pop them in the microwave, then settle down in front of the TV to eat them. You keep flicking through the channels, but nothing really seems that good tonight - even shows you normally like seem to be showing only the worst episodes. You can’t keep your thoughts from drifting back to that sense of bliss you felt just half an hour ago. It really seemed like everything in your life was going to plan for once. And it was so vivid. You keep finding yourself thinking, hoping that it was maybe some kind of premonition - so vivid! - and have to mentally kick yourself in the shins to bring yourself back to earth. After all, you’re a sensible, informed adult. You don’t believe in any of that shit and you never have. With a deep sigh, you turn off the TV and take yourself to bed. The next few weeks drift by in a haze of grey, meeting following meeting, busy day following busy day until, without quite knowing how, you find yourself listening to Christmas songs on the radio and compiling lists of Christmas presents you need to buy. You find your thoughts occasionally hovering around your strange dream, but over time it fades until its nothing more than a vague, but pleasant memory. It’s something of a surprise, therefore, when one day, on your way home from dinner with some friends, you see the ratty man and his stall, waiting outside your home. Not waiting for you, obviously. Just sort of… waiting… Feeling slightly unnerved, you walk a little faster, keeping your head down as you approach your door, hoping to avoid another encounter. Just as you’re starting to think you’ve made it, you hear that croak in your ear again. “So? How did that little trial strike you?” Exasperated, you turn to face him. “What? What trial? What are you talking about?!” Eyebrows raised at the vehemence of your reply, he backs away slightly. “What do you think I’m talking about? Dreams, kiddo, dreams…” He looks at you critically. “Not the sharpest tool in the box, are you? That five-minuter was a taster. I sell them by the half hour if you’re interested.” You pause, interested despite yourself. This is ridiculous, you know this is ridiculous, you aren’t stupid. But still… You find yourself asking him about the price, before you even know you’re going to open your mouth. He grins a crooked grin and you notice a missing tooth. “That’s the best bit - you’ll barely notice it. All I ask is that someday, you share one of your dreams with me. Not today, probably not tomorrow, but one day when I’m in need of some new material, you let me in on your dreams.” Much to your surprise, you nod to him, causing his grin to grow even wider. “Alrighty then, off you go!” With that, he flicks you gently on the shoulder again, and pushes you towards your front door. Still confused and not quite sure how you got there, you find yourself in your bedroom, sitting on the edge of your bed. Suddenly feeling very sleepy, you lie back on the bed, deciding to allow yourself a twenty minute nap. You stretch your arms, waking up slowly, luxuriating in having the time to let wakefulness seep slowly into your consciousness, rather than having to jerk yourself awake with an alarm, like you usually do. The time ahead of you seems to stretch out indefinitely, so you decide to take advantage of it and head to the kitchen to make yourself some pancakes. You’re enjoying the acres of space in the kitchen as you fry your pancakes, covering them in cheese which you allow to melt before piling three of the pancakes onto a plate and eating them while gazing out the window at your beautiful grounds. You sit back in your plump sofa, reading one of your many books for half an hour or so (pausing occasionally to revel in the spacious, beautifully decorated room), after which you start to feel a little fidgety. After a few minutes, you decide to pick up your swimsuit and go for a quick swim in your large heated pool. You swim up and down the pool in your usual brisk front crawl, pulling yourself out of the pool after fifty lengths and heading to the Jacuzzi. As you soak in the warm bubbling water, watching the steam rise off the top of the tub, you realise that, despite all this activity, it’s still early. Another wave of energy sweeps over you, prompting you to get out of the Jacuzzi to shower and change before heading out into the garden to wander through the grounds. A thirty minute walk later, you still haven’t seen everything there is to see - though you did catch a glimpse of the maze. You decide that you’ll save that for next time, and head back to the house, intending to potter around inside for a bit instead. As it happens, you don’t get far, as one of the first things you pass is your mini-cinema, which distracts you into settling down for a quick movie (your favourites are, perhaps unsurprisingly, lined up by the player). A couple of movies later, it is now getting late and you’re just feeling slightly down that such a wonderful day is over, when you come across the letter sitting on your bedside table. You had noticed it there earlier but, feeling a little intrusive, had decided not to open it. In retrospect, you can’t quite make sense of your decision - after all, it is your post. Why shouldn’t you open it? You rip open the envelope, feeling the weight of its contents in your hand as you do so. As the flap holding the envelope shut tears, two tickets slide out and into your hand. You stare at them, feeling the memory come flooding back. The cruise. How could you forget?! It’s your tickets to the round-the-world cruise you booked a few weeks ago. How exciting! the thrill of it all begins to overwhelm you and you suddenly feel inordinately tired. You crash down onto your bed, allowing yourself to drift off to sleep. You wake up with the same shockingly painful headache you felt the last time this happened, looking around at your cramped bedroom with a growing feeling of disappointment. Disappointment in your life, disappointment in what you’ve achieved but, most of all, disappointment at finding yourself here and now, rather than there and then. You take in your little, grey room and glance outside at the little grey street, before giving up on the notion of going downstairs. It all feels too much, so, without bothering to brush your teeth or put anything away, you peel your clothes off before getting straight back into bed, hoping against hope you will find yourself back in your dream... You wake with a start, panicking when you realise it's already past eight. It's not until you check your phone, wondering why your alarm didn't wake you, that you realise it's actually Saturday. You slump back onto the pillow listlessly. You normally love your weekends, thrilling in the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, but this weekend it all feels pointless somehow. The next two days seem to stretch out ahead of you, devoid of any particular attraction. You know you could always meet some friends, but it's not like any of your friends are all that exciting, now that you think about it. With a sigh, you drag yourself out of bed and head for the shower. You find you have to turn the water up hotter than usual today - the shower seems to feel colder and, as a result, you leave without your normal post-shower sense of well-being. After breakfast you still haven't decided what you want to do with your weekend. The ideas that come to you so effortlessly during the week are eluding you today. After sitting fruitlessly for ten minutes, you give up on finding the perfect weekend activity and decide you'll just go out, see what’s out there. An afternoon traipsing aimlessly around London's shops does nothing to lift your mood. Cheap or expensive, conventional or quirky, everywhere you visit is covered in the same pale grey coating. Turning into your street in the early evening, you spot the rat-faced salesman and have to suppress the burst of relief that overwhelms you. You tell yourself sternly that you won't be suckered in again. It's clearly some fantasy he's developed and it's not doing you any good. By the time you're passing his stall, your will is iron, yet when he catches your eye you find yourself nodding quickly, then turning away into your house, waiting for the inevitable flick on your shoulder. By the time Monday comes around, you notice that you've begun distancing yourself from your everyday life, using your 'other' life as a counterpoint to the disappointments and frustrations of your current one. Far from worrying you, this leaves you feeling obscurely pleased with yourself. After all, people are always telling you to step back, add some distance and what better way than this? Every evening this week you've found yourself rushing home, telling yourself you just want to get back into the warmth, but always feeling the same rush of relief when you see your dream salesman near his stall. The week seems to fly by, the evenings going particularly quickly as you’ve fallen into the habit of going more or less straight to bed after you wake up (your headaches are now too bad for you to want to stay awake). You think it’s probably doing you good - certainly, work has felt less stressful this week than ever before. Anyway, it’s not that dissimilar to coming home and watching TV all night, and no-one ever complained about that. After all, you’re going out this weekend, which’ll give you a forced break and it’ll be easy to stop after that. You wake up on Saturday morning surprised and a little disappointed when the view from your window turns out to be your boring suburban close. You lie in bed for a while, pondering the day ahead. Now that it’s actually here, the prospect of going out and meeting your friends is seeming much less appealing. You’ve had a hard couple of weeks, surely you’re justified in taking this weekend to recover? You think about it a little more, convincing yourself you’ll feel better after meeting your friends, finally rolling out of bed and into your shower. Showered and dressed, you feel a little more prepared for the day, though your shower still hasn’t recovered its former heat - you’ll have to speak to your landlord about it, something’s obviously broken. You make yourself breakfast and proceed to fritter away most of the morning, picking up books and flicking through the first few pages before getting bored and putting them back. As it gets closer to the point at which you’ll have to leave, you grow ever more reluctant, until you’ve actually messaged to let them know you won’t be making it. Message sent, you look out your window, towards the spot usually filled by your favourite little stall, only to find it empty. The gaping hole where the rat-faced man - whose name, you discovered this week, is Sam - should be draws your eye to it, like a tongue to an aching tooth. He has to be there at some point today, otherwise you’re just wasting your weekend. You entertain yourself with mindless TV show after mindless TV show, glancing across the street every few minutes. You jump when your phone buzzes and pick it up, only to find a message from your friends, the ones you were meeting today, worrying about you, as ‘no-one’s seen you in weeks’. You throw the phone down, suddenly furious. They don’t know what’s going on in your life! What business is it of theirs HOW you spend your weekends?! Why SHOULDN’T you stay in, if that what’s making you feel better?! The sense of injustice is growing, building up inside you, when you catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of your eye. Hopping up to look outside, you feel all your anger dissipate when you realise Sam is back. You rush out the door, eager to catch him before he goes, with the result that you reach his stall just before he does. He laughs at your impatience, which does nothing to help your mood. Irritated, you snap your request at him: “3 more, please.” He raises his eyebrows at you questioningly. “For tonight and tomorrow”, you elaborate. He nods, taps you on the shoulder, and tells you you it’s done - any time you drift off, you’ll enter your dream until you’ve used them up. You nod and head quickly back to your house, looking forward to some sleep. Your headache on Sunday morning is the worst you’ve had yet and you stay in bed for an extra hour, waiting for it to fade away. By the time you decide you have to get out of bed, it’s dulled to a manageable ache, so you slowly get out of bed and climb into the shower. Twenty minutes later, you’re clean and ready to face the day, pondering your options as you eat your breakfast. You look around your kitchen, alarmed by how cramped your little house feels. Contemplating what you might fill your time with is depressing enough to make you want to hop straight back into bed. Only the fact that two dreams won’t last you long keeps you from getting back into your pyjamas, and you finally decide that you should probably get out of the house. You make a deal with yourself - find a cafe and sit with a decent novel for at least an hour and a half and you’ll allow yourself to head back home for an early afternoon nap. You gather your things and head purposefully into town, walking until you find the nearest cafe, your local Starbucks. Even with the novel you’re currently reading, a new and engaging story, you find time is dragging. You check your watch repeatedly, but no more than five minutes have passed. You fiddle with the edges of your book, staring anxiously into space before checking your watch again. Two minutes this time. After fiddling a little more, you decide you need another drink and head back up to the counter, hoping for a long queue. Ten minutes later, you’re back at your seat, proudly bearing an unnecessarily complicated beverage. you pick up your book again and read the author profile. Huh. He’s only twenty-six. God. When you were twenty-six you were only just about making enough to pay your rent. You check your watch again. Sigh. You go back to trying to read the actual story, but find yourself three pages in with no idea what’s just happened. You check your watch again. At last. Almost there. The second the minute hand ticks across the half hour mark, you pick up your book, grab your bag and coat and head out the door. The walk home has never seemed longer, but you eventually find yourself back in your bedroom, settled on your bed for a nap. When you wake up, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief at being back in your house and spend a couple of minutes enjoying the softness of the sheets and the spaciousness of the room. You get out of bed slowly and wander across the room, planning to get yourself a snack from the kitchen, when you notice that the laundry basket is overflowing. You don’t ever remember it being full before, but nevertheless, you pick up an armful and put on a wash before eating. You get to the kitchen and are irritated to realise that there are no clean plates. You load up the dishwasher and turn it on, but have to wash up the rest of the dirty crockery, as there’s too much to fit into the dishwasher. You breathe a sigh of relief as you finish the last bowl and proceed to dry up one of the plates and a knife so you can make yourself some toast. You sit down at the table, golden brown, butter-soaked toast on the plate in front of you and, just as you’re about to take your first bite, you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself waking up in the small house. Irritated, you decide you use up your last one and go straight back to sleep. Not more than five minutes later, you’re waking up again, frustrated and disappointed. You see Sam sitting across the street from you and decide it’s time to get some answers. You pull on your shoes crossly and march across the street, anger evident with every step. He looks surprised and slightly wary when he sees you but says nothing, waiting for you to start the conversation. It takes you a few minutes, but you explain to him what happened and how disappointed you are. He nods as you talk saying nothing until you finish your story and look at him expectantly. “Yeah”, he says, matter-of-factly, “that will happen after a bit. It’s ‘cos the dream’s too close to your real life, so it’s starting to creep in. You’ll need something a bit farther removed - I can do that for you, but it’ll cost you…” “Oh”, you say, suddenly remembering, “When do I pay you for the others?” He stares at you like you have two heads and, realising you’re serious, explains slowly “You’ve already paid me. Every time I give you one of these dreams, you sacrifice one of yours. It just happens.” You pause, taking in the new information. “So, do you want this one or what?” he asks irritably after a few minutes. “Oh. Um...yeah, I guess so… Yeah.” You head back to the house, a little thrown by what’s just transpired. Settling yourself in bed, you don’t feel quite the eagerness you’ve felt over the last few days, but you go ahead and drift off to sleep anyway. You wake up in the morning, having, somewhat unusually, dreamt the whole night through. For a minute or two, you feel refreshed and energised. Then, just as you’re telling yourself what a good idea it was to switch dreams, the headache hits you. You’ve never experienced anything quite like this and have to lie back and close your eyes, hoping against hope that it will fade away. Twenty minutes later, head still pounding, you give in and call work to let them know you’re ill and won’t be coming in. You collapse back into your bed, having taken a couple of Nurofen, and try to escape the headache by sleeping. When you wake up again, your headache’s faded enough for you to get out of bed. You move to the sitting room and look out your window, shocked by the blandness of your street. You’ve never liked it much, but you used to appreciate its little oddities: the funny hedge two doors down, the bright pink garage door across the street… Now though, you find yourself bored by everything around you, resenting the life that has you living on such a grey little street. The houses seem literally washed of colour. Suddenly sickened by the sight of it, you struggle to your feet, wandering aimlessly around your sitting room. You find yourself in your kitchen, debating making some food, only to realise you don’t have any. When you think about it, you can’t really remember the last time you bought food or, in fact, ate. You sigh to yourself but, with nothing better to do, go about the business of getting yourself ready for the outside world. Check your clothes are decent, find some shoes. Remember that you haven’t put socks on yet. Go get some socks. Put those on. Take them off and exchange them for a matching pair. Finally sit down to put your shoes on, wondering how on earth you’ll get back up again. It seems to take a lifetime, but eventually you are standing outside your front door, breathing in the sharp winter air. You make your way to the bus stop, wondering when the world became so bleak. The elderly gentleman leaning back against the seat looks up at you as you walk over. “Well now”, he begins, taking in your stance and expression, “You look like something’s been eating you up for some time. Is it something you might feel better for sharing?” You think about it for a few minutes, finally deciding it might be easier to talk to a stranger than a friend, at least at first. Taking some time to work out how to word it, you pour out your story, explaining that you know how crazy it sounds and how confused you are. “It feels like these dreams of his have somehow caused this, taken away from my real life, but I don’t understand how that could be? How could losing a dream I haven’t dreamt yet have any impact on the real world?” He sits silently for a moment or two, considering what you’ve told him. “Hm”, he finally grunts, “that’s a tricky situation you’ve got yourself into.” You look at him, confused. How is it tricky? Even if it is the dreams, you just have to stop taking them and you’ll feel better. He shakes his head. “It’s not as simple as that. When someone takes your dreams, they take your essence, your soul - your reason to live. A life without dreams is no life at all and when this man ‘gives’ you his little illusions, he takes something far more precious in return. Whenever you let someone think, imagine or dream for you, you damage your own ability to see a different world.” Seeing you looking despondent, he pats you on the shoulder. “Now don’t look so glum. It’s not all over. Dreaming is something anyone can learn to do, it will just take time and effort. You’ll have to do anything you can to see the world differently, that’s all dreaming is, after all.” You nod in agreement, looking at the street in front of you, wondering how you could possibly see it differently. He smiles at you. “Don’t worry. It will come.” Your bus pulls up, and you climb on, so deep in thought that you don’t even realise he’s no longer with you until you reach the supermarket. You make your way through the aisles, mechanically picking groceries, trying without success to see a supermarket that isn’t badly lit, poorly laid out, cramped and crowded. You look at a tin of beans. Heinz. You think hard about that tin of beans. You try to see something different. Some history, a story. You read the ingredients. You think about the original haricot beans and try to imagine them in place of the tin you hold in your hand. It remains, resolutely, a tin of baked beans. You sigh and put it down, moving listlessly along the shelves. You continue to try, with random products at random points in your shop, picking up a bin bag, a cauliflower, a pack of crisps and some bottled water, all to no avail. However hard you try, you can’t see them outside of their current context. You glance up at the lights, convinced they’re dimming. After a minute or two, you realise they haven’t changed - you have. The greyness is enveloping you and you’re getting tired of resisting. By the time you reach the checkout, you’ve started to feel that grey begin to darken. There’s no point in trying to lighten it. Nothing you do is making a difference. You may as well just go home and wait for it to take over in comfort. Then, a small voice catches your attention. “Mummy, Mummy! Mummy, look!” it squeaks. “What?!” snaps the harassed mother, continuing to scan the shelves in search of washing up liquid. “Mummy, it’s a rabbit!” exclaims the child, pointing at a salt dispenser, with two large handles. You look over and for just a second, you see it. Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow. Langston Hughes

Chapter 21. The search....?

Maeve almost ran back to the house. Steve was already up and dressed, “I thought you had walked out on me, before anything had even started!”, there was fresh coffee on the table and a twinkle in his eye. It washed right over Maeve who was in a hurry, “Okay I have information.” Before she went on, Maeve mentally replayed what she had heard, thinking how much of it would make her sound as if she was losing her grip on reality. She would need to do an edit, select the key information, minimal description of Kevin but enough to convince Steve that this was serious. She made breakfast as an excuse to take the time to martial her thoughts. When she had finished telling her story Steve was silent. They were sitting down over the breakfast table, on a second cup of coffee surrounded by the remains of boiled egg and homemade brown bread toast. Taking another mouthful of coffee, Steve started, “you know, really I have only just met you, what is it a week ago that you came to the station?” Maeve nodded thinking how much had happened in such a short space of time, “just under, it was a Sunday, last Sunday.” Steve went on, “a week ago, I thought you might be a bit touched, ‘radio rental’, but I have a good nose for people and I felt that you were telling me the truth, however hard it was for me to believe. Then you came in with the information on that ‘hit‘n’run’, manslaughter possible murder. How could you have known that? So you have been showing me more evidence that you are getting information from somewhere. Or, you are the one committing the crimes. Those are the only two explanations and I don’t believe for a minute that you are a murderer, so somehow you are getting information.” Maeve was listening intently as her teaspoon was grinding against the bottom of her cup which had already been well stirred. She had been going through her own internal ordeals, and simply hadn’t thought how it might look from the outside. Of course Ada and Orla had made communicating with spirits seem normal. “However,” Steve resumed “the business with Anne, changed it again, this time you were getting information that might have stopped a crime if we had known how to use it.” Here he stopped, pouring out the dregs of the coffee pot, to give him something to do as he reflected on the ramifications of what he had just said. In his world, this would be seen as crazy, as if he had flipped. Talking to ghosts was a ‘no-no’. If he was going to act on any information that Maeve had received then it would have to be down as an ‘anonymous tip off’. Maeve seemed to wake up from having been lulled into Steve’s mindset. “Wait a moment! This is my daughter we are talking about. I was thinking that you could gather a few strong policemen/women and that we could go and break the door down. I don’t need to hear you decide whether I am telling the truth or not. I need help. Brute force. If you are not going to do that then I will go myself. I have a crowbar somewhere.” She was already rummaging through tools under the stairs and pulled out the aforementioned crowbar with a triumphant ‘gotcha’. Steve talked over her hasty actions with a “you don’t understand how the police work. This isn’t my investigation. We haven’t officially called Marieanne in as a missing person yet. The other young lad is being followed up by my colleague, Tim Houghton who is a police inspector and they will call in the local authority to organise a search but that wouldn’t start for at least 48 hours. Plus the young man might just have taken the weekend off, so everyone will wait till Monday.” What Steve hadn’t explained was the office politics that surrounded getting involved with other peoples cases and that in this unit there was particular tension between ‘Police’ Inspector Tim and himself as a ‘Detective’ Inspector. The chip on the shoulder because Tim hadn’t been to university, Tim was a uniform policeman who had risen through the ranks. They were at the same level but Tim was going for promotion and wanted to make sure that Steve didn’t get there before him. In fact Tim was the one who had been behind a lot of the jeering or mocking of Steve. He didn’t say any of this because Maeve was already heading for the door, what he actually said was “Stop!”, as he caught her in the open door and held her by the shoulders physically stopping her from leaving, “Wait a moment. If you go over on your own it is dangerous; you will be breaking the law, its private property and you will be treated like any thief ‘breaking and entering’.” Maeve had lost all patience,“So come with me and help!” This was a total stand-off. Silence. Maeve’s phone pinged, a text message. Steve let go of her as she reached down to look at her phone. It was from Marieanne, “Having a wonderful time. Didn’t see Dad. Will be home this evening. Love you. xxxxxx”. They had been standing with the front door open, a gust of wind caught the door and slammed it shut, the wind also disturbed Marieanne’s note which now floated down to the floor by their feet. Relief flooded through Maeve, “I knew she wouldn’t do anything like this without leaving a message!” She had it in her hand, “see, she didn’t want to disturb me, that’s why she left the note and didn’t call. God knows how it ended up there….” Steve stepped back as she rambled on while putting the crowbar in the umbrella stand as if it was the most normal place to keep one. He recognised all the signs of shock and this time relief. “I think a cup of tea is in order”, by now Steve knew the basics of the kitchen and went to put the kettle on while Maeve collected herself. Mugs in hand, they both went over the situation. “Thank God, she is alive!”, Maeve had already texted Marieanne to see what the plan was and should she come and pick her up? Equally she had messaged Pascal, Ada and Orla, the world could return to its proper place. When the happiness wave had begun to pass, Maeve said, “so what about the message from Kevin? Could it relate to your young man, what’s his name?” Steve had to share more of the background politics than he really wanted to, but if he was ever to act on information that Maeve received then they needed to work out how, and she needed to know that it would be at a distance. No running in with battering rams and Maeve leading the charge! But Steve had been convinced that Maeve really was communicating with spirits who could help solve crime and he promised that as a result he would take whatever actions he could. They officially shook hands on it. A deal. After Steve left, Maeve got the vacuum cleaner out, put on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ and went on a cleaning blitz. By the time the house was back in order Maeve was hot, sweaty and very happy. It had been interrupted by messages and calls all round. They had decided to meet up in Ada’s for supper. Orla had taken charge and had invited Pascal, Marie-Odile and the kids to come over too, encouraging them to take a cheap EuroTunnel day pass saying it wasn’t far and the kids could sleep in the car on the way back. So it had turned into a full scale surprise party for Marianne. Ada joining in with ‘if it doesn’t kill me, I must be cured!’ Maeve was to pick Marieanne up from Ashford and drive her over to Sandgate, theoretically to collect Orla and so keeping the surprise. It turned into one of those impromptu family gatherings that stays in the mind long after other ‘important’ events have dissolved from the collective memory. Life changes, life decisions, flowed through the conversation, there was time for everyone. The afternoon turned to evening interspersed with children throwing stones on the beach and the great food that Orla had ‘assembled’. As she said ‘assemblage’ is the new cooking’ to which Maeve added ‘which only works if you have delicious raw ingredients. Like the perfect brie, fresh bread, super thin prosciutto and a good glass of red wine here.’ The atmosphere was warm and generous. Acceptance and support all round with the oft repeated ‘no more secrets’, relating as much to Ada’s health as Orla’s ambitions and of course Maeve’s new ‘friends’. The addition of Pascal, Marie-Odile and the children added the festive air and the realisation that they needed to see each other more often. As much because they enjoyed each other’s company as because of the family connections. The end of the evening had turned into a bit of a sing-song ranging from half remembers advertising jingles to ballads to Taylor Swift as no one wanted it to come to a close. Finally it was Marie-Odile who looked at the time and everyone made their moves with lots of hugs and kisses and ‘see you soons’. Ada and Orla were coming back to Canterbury on Sunday, after Orla had cleaned up the house, which in fairness she had offered to do. She really is becoming more mature, thought Maeve, as she and Marieanne made their way through the countryside at the same moment Marieanne said it out loud. “She is.” Maeve was smiling at their similar thought processes, “And you have found yourself?” Maeve said more as a statement looking for confirmation than a question. “Yes, I needed to come to that decision myself. I needed to know that there are other possibilities. And I needed to believe in myself, to know that I will not be defined by exams, I am more than that. Now with the pressure off I can study at my own pace. What will be will be, but I will have done what I can.” Marieanne sounded a little drowsy and fatigue eventually overcame her, she had begun to doze off when Kamal spoke.

2049 The World tips over.

Southern Bangladesh is again inundated and it is becoming increasingly obvious that flood waters will no longer recede enough to allow people to live in coastal or near-coastal cities. As people move inland, refugees spill over into India and are pushed north into Nepal and then Tibet. The Chinese government, with three major incidents in the last twenty-five years, is in no mood to allow Indian citizens or refugees pushed out of India to cross their borders. Their western command is mobilised and India mobilises their regional divisions in response. The stand-off continues across the new year as negotiations in the UN break up and restart numerous times. 2050: February, the tensions finally burst into warfare as China crosses the Indian border. The Indian Army is out gunned and overwhelmed by the drone attack from the air. Chinese ground drones follow up and occupying forces enter north eastern India, and pour into Kashmir. Pakistan takes its chance and Pakistani troops pour across into Kashmir occupying it and freeing Chinese troops who continue south. India is on the verge of collapse when the US intervenes. March: Initially US forces alone land just north of Delhi but they are swiftly backed up by EU and British special ops troops. End of March beginning of April: Turkey, having left NATO ten years earlier, tries to relieve pressure on her ally, China, by crossing the Bosphorus and invading the former Yugoslav nations and Northern Greece. NATO forces halt their advance in southern Serbia and Special Forces from the EU and Britain go behind enemy lines disrupting supplies and coms. Turkey collapses when the army rebels and launches a coup. April: Russian forces prevent the gutting of Turkey by sending several naval units to Istanbul and threatening to declare war. India, her pride badly wounded threaten China with a nuclear attack unless she stops her (already stalled) advance. And Pakistan must also withdraw. Pakistan threatens to retaliate. May: The latest round of talks at the UN suddenly have everyone’s attention and by the end of the first week a ceasefire is declared on all fronts. The sharp, sudden conflict has cost close to a million lives. The US economy still struggling to recover the growth lost from successive hits from pandemic, trade wars and global warming has caused serial political problems for Presidents with the current one facing mid-terms in a precarious state. Congress is splintered into numerous factions offering her neither guidance nor help. Government is discredited and taxes are still rising while numerous states have declared bankruptcy. She reaches out to the only stable source of finance and governance; Corporate America and Americorp in particular. Their price is total deregulation. They essentially buy the President a majority in Congress and control that majority. In Beijing, a week after the peace accords are signed in Geneva, The China 12 recruit Capt. Kevin Twomey and Major Joanne Baines. They also hunt for and then, through Rachel Lopez-Real, recruit Milo Talbot.

Chapter 20. Information.

Evening turned to night in Canterbury, Steve had exhausted his list, “ There is nothing more we can do tonight, but I don’t want you to be on your own, so I suggest that I stay over, I can sleep on the sofa so that if anything happens I will be here. Now I suggest we open a bottle of wine and you have something to eat and try to rest, you will need your energy tomorrow.” That made Maeve feel safe, she didn’t have to go through this alone. Giving Steve instructions on where to find the good red wine in the wine rack by the fridge and the trick with the special cork puller, she left him to it while she gave Ada and Orla a quick update. They put the phone on speaker phone so that all three could talk, Ada said “I had been wondering where the best place for us to be was too. I am worried about you, but then she might come here...I’m glad that Steve is there with you, it can be tough on your own.” Maeve told them the news from Steve that in Canterbury today another young man had been reported missing, and passed on Susan’s cryptic comment. Orla and Ada talked over each other, “she definitely doesn’t have a boyfriend at the moment” from Orla, and “why didn’t you say that before!”, from Ada who went on, “if the spirits are talking to you, and they know something, you can demand information from them! Go, first thing in the morning and demand answers from them. My guess is that Susan doesn’t have anything specific, but you could try her. Is there anyone else who has been holding out on you?” Maeve’s heart sank as she thought about Kevin, she knew that he had information. She filled the others in, Ada’s experience came into play, “Listen to me, you don’t have to take shit from him, pardon my language, but really they do try it on sometimes and actually you can and should take control. I know you are new at this and also in this case you really need the information, so maybe listen for a bit to get him on side then say ‘enough from you’ and demand some answers.That might work.” Ada didn’t sound as confident as Maeve would have liked, but it was the best plan they had so far. Earlier in Arras, as Marieanne had been watching the family get ready, thinking that there was no room in that car for her. She wasn’t a fan of the sea either, beach holidays meant sand in everything, going blue from the cold, and being sticky from the salt water, and it didn't matter if it was in Le Touquet or Margate, the results were the same. Nor did she want to spoil their fun. She could see Pascal on the phone preoccupied, she still hadn’t been seen by any of them, it was a good time to slip away unnoticed. Yet again she did something on the spur of the moment. She made the decision that she would head home but slowly in her own time, she had really enjoyed today, just a little longer would be good. It was getting late. She was still in regular contact with Julia, her bestie from maternelle, they each had half of their ‘friends forever’ necklace. So she would walk up to McDonalds to get free WiFi, send her a message and see if she could stay with her tonight. Twice today she had that liberating feeling, it was good. Home by Sunday for sure but maybe by tomorrow evening would be enough of a break, she did love their Sunday morning rituals. She loved talking through her life with Maeve and Orla, they were a good team, they just hadn’t been there for her recently. But she did need the time to make sure she was making the right decisions for herself. This trip was a good idea. Strange but good. Julia had laughed when they met up, “I never thought you of all people would just pitch up. You are always so organised. Well this is a treat. My Mom is so excited, she wants to hear all the gossip from Canterbury. First let’s celebrate. Let’s go to the ‘Petit Rat’, it’s where ‘Bad Bob’s’ used to be, and it has a great atmosphere. Or Vidocq? The pizza’s are still great.” In Maeve’s cozy sitting room, with the Ikea easy chairs and comfortable sofa bed, the wine was breathing, glasses on the coffee table. Steve had put on an Ella Fitzgerald cd as he continued “..people can do strange things just before exams. I was at college with a guy doing theoretical physics, it was a no brainer, he was going to ace his finals. He didn’t share with any of us but the stress got to him. And you won’t believe this, but, he really did run away and join the French foreign legion. I saw again, some years later, and heard the whole sad story, he had burst an eardrum on the final training exercise so he never even got to fight. What I mean is rational people can do irrational things in moments of stress. But Marieanne is 18 years old, judging by you, she is likely to be well able to look after herself, and she probably needed a break. Having Ada over, then Anne and all the press outside, I could imagine wanting to get away from it all. But you all get on well, don’t you? So she is likely to come back in a day or so.” Appreciating the sympathy but knowing her daughter Maeve came back with a quick “But not Marieanne! She is very thorough and precise about everything, she wouldn’t do something like this without letting me know. It’s not that she is not capable, but she would leave instructions. If not a phone message, then a note. This is really, really not like her.” Meanwhile over in France, Marieanne had not laughed so much in a long time, Julia and her parents were such good fun; they were full of funny stories about old friends and what had happened to them. Lying on the camp bed, on her own and exhausted Marieanne was thinking, why was she really here? Was she running away from the fuss at home, or was she afraid of the exams? What was she expecting from this father whom she loved but who wasn’t really a part of her world. She thought back to the time she spent with Pascal, she could hear him saying, ‘learn to love yourself for who you are’. He thought she pushed herself too far, and would say, ‘you are like your mother, always trying for more, bigger, better. This is not the way to happiness. You will be happy doing something you love, as well as you can, knowing you are doing your best. Be that growing flowers or cutting hair. You don’t have to be the best in the world, you have to know that you are doing the best you can, then you can be happy. Life is not a competition.’ In a moment of realisation she understood what he had been trying to say to her and that he was right. She was afraid of failing, of letting people down, actually really she was afraid of letting herself down. Again she could hear Pascal saying, ‘I know you, you have done everything you can, haven’t you? Now let go and enjoy the challenge,’, even if she hadn’t seen him in person, Dad had managed to lift a weight from her, with that she fell sound asleep. Maeve had not slept well. Throughout the night after what felt like a few minutes of sleep she would wake with a guilty start and would run through her relationship with Marieanne again and again. Had she missed something, were there clues that she should have picked up on? By 5am she was fully awake, Maeve had decided to see if she could find Kevin and confront him. She slipped out of the house leaving Steve sound asleep on the sofa bed. The morning air smelt fresh, of new growth, of an abundance of green and early blossom. It was early enough that there were no cars around as she crossed the road up to the footpath through the woods, and on up the steep hill and finally across the campus. Not knowing where exactly to find Kevin she headed over to Parkwood, the old launch site for the rocket society, walking the long way around to avoid the cordoned off area where she had found Anne. There he was, hands in his pocket, fag in his mouth, dirty shirt with grime from overuse around the shirt pocket where he kept his cigarettes, “I knew you’d have to come back! Time for me now, do you? Well, I don’t know that I want to tell you things now…” For a moment Maeve thought that she had blown it, but no, there was never a chance that anyone would stop Kev, from talking, telling everyone how the world ‘really’ works. “You see, girlie, you are privileged, so you don’t even look around you. You don’t see who is really in charge, of course there are the Jews they have all the money - and don’t try and tell me that’s not true - just look at the banks, Rothschilds, and the Bank of England and the Fed in America are privately owned by you guessed it, the Jews ….. huh! But they are not the only problem. The cabal who run the world, the Jews are in that but there are others too, the Catholics! People don’t look at the Catholics but they control one hell of a lot of the people. The word CABAL comes from the Secret Treaty of Dover where Charles II signed up to convert to Catholicism for money, bet you didn’t know that. Look it up. You have to watch out for Muslims now too, they are the terrorists, it used to be the Irish with their bombs now it's the Muslims. Got to keep them out.” Kevin hadn’t drawn breath yet, and Maeve wondered how much of this rant she should listen to before asking or as Ada said ‘demanding’ information. Kevin felt her thoughts, “okay, okay I know you want some information but I have to give you the background or you won’t see it either. Canterbury is a big centre for members of the cabal to meet. The Canterbury Archeological Trust were finding things that people didn’t want discovered. They won’t admit it but they are close to finding ‘anti gravity powder’, in theory it’s buried under a huge stone, what’s the biggest stone around here? You got it, the Cathedral. There are those of us who think it might be part of the Cathedral foundations, why do you think they are ‘repairing’ the stonework? It’s a cover to poke about. Of course they work with those of us who know that the earth is flat. I have been up to the top of the Cathedral tower 236ft and you can see that the earth is flat. I mean the horsemen of the apocalypse come from the ‘four corners of the world’ and if you look at the Canterbury cross you will see it’s got the four points inside a circle, a disk, the earth!” Maeve was now shifting from foot to foot with impatience, as Kev continued, “Anyway, you get where I am coming from, so I had to work with the societies as a University staff member, I chose the rocket society to keep an eye on them and when I could, I would show them that they were being played by the elite, they were just the pawns in someone else’s game. I met a guy there who shared my views. We got on but then it got a bit heavy. He was in with the Catholics, which was okay…..”, here, he seemed to hesitate so Maeve, trying to show that she had been following, chipped in “I thought you didn’t like the Catholics.” Back on track Kevin launched into,“I don’t but it doesn’t mean that they don’t know a thing or two about God!” By this time Maeve had had enough; time to try Ada’s strategy, “Kevin, you seem to know a lot about what’s going on around here. I demand that you tell me what you know about missing people.” She felt very strange saying it out loud but it seemed to have an effect on Kevin, “what exactly do you want to know?” He was a little cagey, almost sly, Maeve thought she would have to choose her words carefully, “if someone is missing, where are they?” Quick as a wink, Kevin replied “I don’t know, but if you asked me ‘where are they kept?’, I might have an answer.” Maeve was irritated, this wasn’t the time to play word games, “sure, where are they kept?” This time Kevin was very specific, “in my opinion they are kept over there in St John Stone House.”, as he pointed over towards the main entrance to the University. There was a derelict building opposite the entrance. Maeve didn’t want to spend any more time with Kevin that she absolutely had to, so with that she turned on her heel and left. As she retreated she could hear a fading Kevin shouting after her, “have a good look around and check the basement….there will be signs of the cabal meetings too.”

Chapter 19. More than one?

By this time Marieanne had enjoyed her mooch around Calais, revelling in her favourite bits of France, had taken the local train, changed at St Omer, and arrived in Arras. She was just walking from the station down to the Rue Meaulens, breathing in memories and putting the recent stress behind her. Through the Place des Heros toward the town hall where the giants are kept between festivals. Orla and Marieanne had been part of the group to make ‘the baby’ which was the first addition in a generation to the ten foot tall giant family. She walked on taking a detour via her primary school where as a four year old she had excelled at dance, her big moment being leading the class routine at the annual kermesse, the school fete. It all seemed so long ago, strange and yet familiar. She caught the smell of beer from the obligatory Irish Pub, and more pleasantly the lingering smell of this morning’s baguettes from the boulangerie. As she passed she eavesdropped into the chatter of french as the local people went about their business; the workday was coming to a close and the weekend was beginning. It was liberating, it was the break she needed. She walked beyond her father’s barber's salon because she could see him with a client through the window, stopping at the Frite van parked on the wide verge of the bridge by the Jardin Minelle overlooking the canal basin. There were a few park benches to sit on and admire the geometric concrete plant holders full of colourful tulips, wallflowers and pansies, and with the water in the background, it was a nice spot to sit and wait. As she sat, Marieanne looked under the old stone arches taking in the full height plate glass that had been used as walls to form the shop front through which she could see her Dad working. He was smiling, taking time with the customer, chatting as if it was no effort, yet he was totally focused on doing a meticulous job. She could imagine the conversation. As a little girl, when she could, she would dress up in a white overall that was much too big for her and take charge of sweeping up the hair. Her father had taught her how to be ‘professional’ and take pride in doing a job properly. She would hold the tall brush which was much bigger than her, standing to attention, waiting till she got the imperceptible nod then she would move in and neatly gather the fallen hair in a pile taking it away in time for her Dad to move back into place with the mirror and show the client the finished result. She was very serious, the regulars loved to see her there, sometimes clients would bring her sweets, which she always shared. Her father had told her how to be fair and share your tips, so she did. Marieanne found herself smiling at her own memories. Then she noticed Marie-Odile arriving with the children, they hadn’t seen her. As they entered the salon they swarmed over Pascal, and he, happy with the interruption kissed them. Clearly they had come to pick him up. She looked at the car which Marie-Odile had left parked  on the double yellow lines with hazard lights flashing, it was packed full of stuff for the beach. Marieanne hadn’t told them that she was coming and it hadn’t occurred to her till this instant that they might have plans for the weekend. Back at home, food prepared, glass of wine in hand, it was Friday after all. Maeve had caught up with herself and looked at the time thinking ‘Actually, where is Marieanne, she is normally home from school long before now?’ She phoned Ada, musing that it would have been easier to get all of this sorted earlier, but anyway “so is Marieanne with you too?” Ada was really keen to make sure that there were no misunderstandings this time, “no, love, I haven’t seen her since first thing this morning. Actually I didn’t even hear her leaving for school.” Ada, shouting at her end, “Orla, dear, did you hear Marieanne leave this morning? No, you didn’t either… Maeve, you still there? Maybe she went to have a coffee with her friends in town before coming home..?” Maeve had already hung up. Within a few minutes Maeve had established that Marieanne had not gone to school, that she might be ill and that no one had in fact seen her since about 8am this morning. Maeve had left numerous messages on Marieanne’s phone, but it was either out of range, switched off, or had run out of batteries. She knew that there was enough credit on the phone, so it wasn’t that. She called Steve. He was off duty but came around anyway. Most of the press had left, there were a few lingering. But he didn’t think that they would stay long. He didn’t look like a policeman, just an ordinary bloke on a motorbike and with the helmet they wouldn’t look twice. Steve had had another gruelling day, the impromptu press conference had taken time that he needed to spend elsewhere. When he arrived, Maeve automatically fed him. She had prepared supper but now couldn’t eat it herself. Feeding someone else was something to do while she was thinking. He was happy to enjoy some good food, as they went through the options. At the station his colleague had had a report of another missing person, it wasn’t Steve’s case, but he had begun to wonder if there might be a link with Anne’s death, which had now been classed as murder. He decided not to mention it to Maeve as it was most likely to upset her even more. He thought it was a young lad that hadn’t shown up as a replacement teacher and wasn’t to be found, could they be linked? Dealing with Maeve’s problem Steve realised that it was probably best that he go through some of the situations that they had to face on a reasonably regular basis and let Maeve work out which one might apply. “Young people are both predictable and unpredictable, what do we know? It was a school day and she is a good student, so either she was ill or she wanted a day off. If she was ill where would she go?” They both thought that home was likely but would the press have put her off? Hospital? A quick call solved that one. Not at the hospital. “Does she have a current boyfriend? Would she tell you if she did?”, Steve had thought that a weekend off for two young people might be a realistic option. Maeve was firm on that one, “nope, she did have one but she decided that he was just boring and that if she wasn’t studying she would rather read a book!”, which Maeve had agreed was a perfectly valid life choice. Steve was going through his mental checklist, “Any close relatives? Other than Ada.” At this Maeve got excited, “Relatives! I should have thought about that before. Her father. Pascal lives in France, the girls have often gone over on their own, it's not far, just the other side of the Channel.” She was dialling as she spoke. Pascal answered and she could hear Marie-Odile trying to keep the children quiet in the background, “sorry, we are getting in the car, on our way to the coast to Le Touquet, we are all going parasailing this time,...” Maeve interrupted the happy chatter abruptly, “have you seen Marieanne? She is missing.” Pascal nearly dropped the phone, “she’s not here. But this is totally bizarre, I was just finishing up with the last client and I thought I could feel her nearby. I was thinking I should call. Then the kids arrived and immediately you called. Weird. Okay, we go to Le Touquet. I can leave the kids with Marie-Odile and some friends there. I am coming over to Canterbury, I will be there in the morning.” For a moment Maeve felt relieved then, she ran through the full implications of having Pascal stressing too. “No! We are just panicking, what can you do here? If we are all in one place we can’t cover as many bases. Much better that you are there in case she is coming to you! Check your home before you go, then keep your phone with you. That way if we hear anything whichever one of us is closer can go to her.” Pascal was silent as he considered this option, “that sounds like a good plan, we must call each other if we hear anything at all, or even think of something that might be useful…..” he petered out a bit deflated but more reassured, brains rather than heart had kicked in, less dramatic but more likely to have a good result. As Maeve was putting down the phone Steve was not surprised to see that she had wound herself up into a state. She was pretty much talking aloud, “I know why I am so worried, it’s not only that Marieanne never does anything out of the ordinary, but I saw Susan this evening and she gave me that cryptic warning, what did she say? ‘you need to know that it is not over. You must find the killer or the price you pay will be too high.’ Was it to do with Marieanne?” Steve decided he had to tell her that Marieanne wasn’t the only one missing.

Chapter 18. Missing.

Having got the house dark, by creeping around on hands and knees, closing curtains, shutter or blinds without being seen, Maeve was feeling like she had somehow landed in the middle of an American thriller. She could hear the shower going upstairs and was now facing the bit she really didn’t want to do. But she would rather make this call when there was no one around, she really didn’t want anyone eavesdropping. She wasn’t sure how she felt about Steve and hadn’t had the time to decide if he really had been ‘just doing his job’ in a way that would clear her and Ray. Or not. Nothing for it, she was going to have to call him, right now before showers were finished, or it would get even more awkward. Steve wasn’t keen on talking to Maeve either. What had she been playing at? Wasn’t it clear that he found her attractive so had to be extra cautious, always have a witness present, always record any important conversation as a statement. Maybe she wasn’t aware, maybe it did look like she was a suspect. Unconsciously maybe he did think she might have done it, did he? No! That was ridiculous. He had seen how she looked when she had found the body. Was there a sliver of doubt? Okay maybe he could see how it might have appeared to Maeve. He was still right to have done what he did, but maybe she had a point, he had made her a suspect without explaining the process. Maybe he had done it because he hadn’t decided what kind of relationship he wanted with Maeve. He hadn’t had any time to reflect on it either when Maeve called. Steve had also missed the evening news so it caught him on the hop too. Oh God! This was just what he didn’t need. A media frenzy. “What was your mother thinking of? A medium helping with police enquiries! Shit! I have to sort things here immediately, I’ll call you back, don’t do anything until we have spoken.” With that he hung up and warned the desk sergeant, too late, they had already been inundated with calls, and had been fending them off with a ‘the police do not work with psychics, no further comment’ set of responses. Once Ada and Orla had set off for Sandgate, Ada started making plans, “this is going to be like going into hiding.” Orla was never one to let an inaccuracy go so she cheerfully added, “it’s not ‘like’ going into hiding, you are going into hiding! And am acting as your ‘handler’, as well as your minder.” That was a lot worse than Ada liked the sound of. By the time Steve called Maeve they had both had a moment to think, maybe it wasn’t completely the other one's fault, but still, there were wounded egos on both sides. They were civil rather than warm. Meanwhile Ruth had gone through her statement and had a list of questions. She wanted to know if the police had any lines of enquiry or if she should add in anything specific about ‘if anyone has any information they should call….’, or should they organise a joint press conference? Maeve handed the phone over to Ruth. As she did so she thought, what am I doing in the middle of this, how did that even happen? Ruth and Steve decided that given the unusual level of media interest they should hold a joint press conference, where they could both state that this had nothing to do with any psychics, the reporter had been completely mistaken, Ada was a friend and neighbour nothing more. They would hold it in town to draw the media away from the house while Maeve, and in particular Ada, would hide next door. Having arrived in Sandgate, Orla was enjoying her position of power. “We need supplies and you can’t go out, everyone knows you but they think you are in Canterbury, so don’t put your nose outside the door. I am going to go to the East Yard, to the Docker Brewery and Bakehouse in the harbour over in Folkestone, because I am going to get the best sourdough, have you tried it yet? I’ll get some fresh fish from Trawlers too, and I was thinking we should get a few beers, what do you say? It’s okay, I’m pescatarian, I can eat fish, and I can use your card if I tap it.” Ada didn’t feel that she could object. The girls had kept two bikes in her house for years so that they could go on their own excursions anytime they were over and Ada wasn’t allowed to drive yet. Taking the credit card that Ada held out, Orla took it as her assent. Then Orla picked out Marieanne’s bike because it was the old fashioned upright model with a wicker basket on the front, which would do for the shopping. Back in Canterbury, Maeve waited till Ruth went out the front door, then as she slipped out the back unseen she could hear Ruth saying, “we appreciate your support at the difficult time for our family….”, and glimpsed the media surging around Ruth, as she hopped over the wall home. She had steeled herself to face Ada and was stunned to find the house empty, and all of Ada’s stuff gone too. That morning as Marieanne had closed the door quietly behind her, she had felt her heart lift. This was a completely controlled adventure, and it was just for her. It wasn’t until she was walking to the train station that she realised how much the recent stress and tension surrounding her Mum, Ada and Orla had affected her. The exams were bad enough but the rest was in a whole different league. She thought, if I shut it all out for the weekend, take some time doing ordinary things with people I love, then I will be fresh and ready to take on the next phase of revision, and of life. School had already been winding down and putting more emphasis on self study timetables so missing a day wasn’t a problem. As she walked she called her friend Rachael and told her that she wasn’t feeling great so was going to stay home today. There was no point in getting anyone else into trouble for lying. Rachael would simply relay the message. Marieanne felt a bit guilty at Rachael’s concerned ‘are you alright? Should I come over and check in on you?’ But knew this was the best way not to get her into trouble. Marieanne never took time out of school, so no one would doubt her. Job done. Marieanne could now concentrate on enjoying the day. She was in no rush. She planned it as she walked, she would take the train to Ashford and catch the next Eurostar to Calais, maybe wander around the market in Calais. Get her favourite ham and cheese baguette and a grand cafe creme, watch the world go by for a while. Then take the local train to Arras, in time to walk over and meet Dad at the Salon. Easy. It was after lunch before Ada remembered that she hadn’t told Maeve where she was, nor that Orla was with her. Shit! She looked at her phone which she had left on silent from the night before. Of course there were missed calls from Maeve, four to be precise, one an hour, and the text, ‘where the f**k are you?’ Not surprising really, if she were in Maeve’s shoes she'd be mad too. Thinking of the best way to handle it, Ada decided to text first, then Maeve could call her whenever she was ready, ‘Hello love, so, so, sorry about the TV, thought it best to get out of your hair. Took Orla with me. At home now. All okay here. Call when you want to xxxxx’. She said a silent prayer as she pressed send. Anger doesn’t really describe what Maeve was feeling, she was beside herself with rage, ‘that woman, only ever thinks of herself. Never a thought for others. Actually that’s not true. Plenty of time for others, just no time for me. She never had time for me.’ The anger mixed with the sadness and disappointment that Maeve really felt when she thought about Ada. Looking at it now she knew that it was a lack of affection, a lack of love. ‘Ada had never really loved her. Not in the way Maeve loved Marieanne and Orla.’ Maeve had brought her children up in a household full of affection, full of hugs and kisses, full of laughter. Where people had time for the children and brought them into the conversation. Thinking back on her own childhood she remembered it as lonely. Ada, drifting around, and her father blaming her for everything. Her father was what we would now call an abusive father, not physical, but totally controlling and no matter what she did, Maeve was always a disappointment to him, irrationally everything that went wrong was her fault. Maeve thought it was probably because she wasn’t a boy, but there seemed more to it than that. Maeve never understood what made her father so unpleasant, so downright mean to her. Nor why Ada never seemed to take her side. All of the emotions that she had been going through the last few days rolled into one and she cried, cried for her lost childhood, cried that she couldn’t reconnect with Ada, maybe she could never fully feel loved by Ada. Was she trying for the impossible? She felt that she had failed on every count. She hadn’t found Anne in time, even though she had had the warning. Once she had cried herself out, the other Maeve took over, telling herself to have something to eat, have a cup of tea, think things through again. It will all work out. Then Ruth called and explained that the press fiasco wasn’t Ada’s fault, it was true Ada had never mentioned helping the police, it was all fabrication on behalf of the journalist. Of course the fact that Ada was a medium did mean that anyone who knew that could put two and two together but Ada hadn’t done it on purpose. The police were starting their lines of enquiry and had used the conference to call for any witnesses. Things were progressing. Also they had decided to have the funeral at Barham a week today to give Ruth’s brother time to get to Canterbury from Australia. By the time she phoned Ada, Maeve was in a much better place. They made a sort of peace. It was still out of order for Ada to take Orla out of school like that, but maybe now wasn’t the time to push it. So Maeve decided that a nice quiet evening with Marieanne was just what she needed and as she reflected on the last week, it was probably just what Marieanne needed too, a bit of normality. She would bake one of the family favourites, a cheese pie, green salad with avocado and asparagus, dressed with Ottolenghi’s simple olive oil, garlic and lemon juice dressing, perfect. Maeve made the pastry, put it in the fridge and thought, there’s enough time to stretch my legs before I have to get the rest cooking. Throwing on her denim jacket, she went towards town, not keen on going up to the University just yet. She ended up crossing Beverly Meadow, and there waiting for her was Susan who addressed her with “Glad you came by, I am sorry about that lady, she is a nice lady. But you need to know that it is not over. You must find the killer or the price you pay will be too high.” After this cryptic comment, not waiting for a reply Susan had disappeared.

Chapter 17. The bust up.

Regardless of whether they had seen the news item or not, none of them could have been prepared for what happened next. Ruth was exhausted from the travel and Ray had taken another sleeping pill so he was flat out. Maeve had collapsed into her own bed. Ada had ear plugs in, her eye mask on, and was oblivious to the world. So it was Orla feeding the cat and Marieanne getting up for school the next morning who saw it first. The whole street was blocked off with cars, vans and outside broadcast units parked anywhere and everywhere. They were on the road, in the road, and all over peoples gardens. There were television reporters each talking to their own camera crews and each with a view of Ray’s house. It seems that the day before had been a quiet news day, globally, and Simon’s report of a spirit medium helping the police to solve a crime, potentially a murder, was just the sort of gossipy story that people all over the world love, so it had spread like wildfire. Simon was fighting to keep his place near the house, but it didn’t matter to him, he had already had the scoop plus he had the old footage of Ada, which he could use again and again. There were crews from everywhere, ITV, BBC, Sky, and internationally too, from CNN, from Japanese TV, Russian TV and on and on. Marieanne ran up the stairs and woke Maeve while Orla checked the internet and by the time Maeve was awake Orla had the full story. Along with images of Ada, looking the very picture of a glamorous medium, to a sound bite of ‘I help the dead to tell their story’ intercut with Simon talking outside the house as Ada, the helpful neighbour, opened the door. It was all over the internet, it was everywhere! Simon had been very clever and had cut together a great story, most of which was just speculation, but until someone spilled the beans it was all anyone had to go on. “Christ Mum! What have you done! How could you!” Maeve was too upset to hold back. She shook Ada awake, “What, darling, I’m still asleep, I can’t hear a thing with the earplugs in, aren’t they great..”Ada trailed off as by this stage Maeve had shoved a laptop in front of her showing the news clip. “When were you going to tell us? Or was this just another opportunity for you to be the great ‘I am”, the one taking centre stage? It’s been like that all my life and I thought we could get beyond it. Clearly not. It’s more important that the great Ada, the spirit medium gets the publicity. Christ sake mother, Anne is dead! This could tip Ray over into a full on breakdown. Some friend you are.” Maeve didn’t draw breath and she wasn’t going to listen to any ‘excuses’ Ada might have. She had thrown on some clothes and was hopping over the back wall to get into next door before they saw the frenzy outside the front of the house when Ada shouted after her, “I didn’t do anything, I swear it, on my dying mother’s grave I swear it!.” Maeve didn’t reply, she didn’t believe it, if it really was a mistake wouldn’t Ada have told them about it last night? How on earth was she going to apologise to Ray and Ruth! Ada was beside herself, crying, as she rocked back and forth, “that bastard! I didn’t say anything, he made it all up.” Orla was trying to comfort her, rubbing her back saying, “it’ll be fine, when she calms down Mum’ll be fine, you’ll see” but Ada knew different. They had unresolved issues, secrets that Orla knew nothing about which meant that Maeve might never speak to her again, as this realisation dawned on Ada, another wave of tears broke, she was incoherent and inconsolable. Marieanne was standing between them and the kitchen not knowing which way to turn. Up till now she had kept herself together, life had been manageable, she just had to focus on studying for the exams. Marieanne had always been the quiet one, the strong one; she had a will of iron. She could do anything once she had the time to mentally prepare for it. Surprises of any kind however were not appreciated. She had been thinking that the May bank holiday weekend was probably the last break that she could take before the exams. Even with the arrival of Ada and the dramas next door she was still on top of her revision. The schedule was working out fine, she was confident that she could take a long weekend off. She wanted to pop over to Arras and see the other family. She had a great relationship with her Dad, Pascal, and although she never liked to say it to Maeve she also really enjoyed her stepmother Marie-Odile, who was more like a friend than a parent. But the kids were the real reason she wanted to go. They never asked awkward questions, they loved her unconditionally, and they demanded her full attention, stories, shopping, playing games. It was the best way to take your mind off things, and that would give her a proper rest. Right now she needed calm normality, not this. Thinking it through Marieanne convinced herself,  it will be fine, Orla is better than me in situations like this and really Mum could do with one less to look after. For once in her life Marieanne decided to just act. Maeve had managed to sneak into the house without any of the reporters seeing her. She would never forgive Ada, but that was for another time, right now she needed to warn Ruth and Ray. She managed to wake them up, make tea, and get them into the kitchen before they realised what was outside the house. She had brought her laptop and just showed them the news clip. Ray was still groggy and couldn’t take it in. Luckily Ruth was in PR so she realised what had happened probably even better than Maeve. Maeve explained that there were tens of news crews camped outside in their normally empty Close. Ruth turned into her professional persona, “right, I am going to sneak into the living room and close the curtains. Whatever you do, nobody is to answer the door. Maeve, can you pull down the blinds in the kitchen and the shutters in the breakfast room. But don’t look out the windows, they all have telephoto lenses. Once we have shut down the house, I suggest that Dad and I get showered and dressed and by then I will have come up with a press statement. Oh, and Maeve, can you call your policeman friend? I think we should let them know what’s happening and make sure that our stories are along the same lines.” Maeve was so relieved that she could have kissed her. She found it hard to imagine that this was the same Ruth who when she left home, was a timid, beautiful young woman just married, prone to blushing, always deferring to her husband. Ruth had always been bright as a button, and kind to Marieanne and Orla but with no ambition for herself and she never, ever wanted to be the centre of attention. Yet here she was taking it all in her stride. Maybe having an important role was a good thing. Meanwhile, Ada had recovered enough to get ready for the day, drink her tea and even nibble a slice of toast. Orla had decided that this wasn’t a day for school so was doing whatever she could for Ada. With more spirit than she has shown since she woke up, Ada made a decision, “ Okay, I’ve got it. This is what we will do. Orla, you are going to help me pack. We are going to get a taxi to Sandgate, I am going home. You are going to come with me. It's Friday so you can come and stay for the weekend. You can be my nurse and make sure I don’t have another heart attack! That way we can leave Maeve some space. Maybe by Monday she will be ready to talk to me.” In a flurry of activity, they tidied the breakfast things, packed and ordered a taxi. They didn’t think about Marieanne because she would be in school by now and she was probably the best one to handle Maeve at the moment anyway especially if Ada was out of the way. The taxi arrived, parking a distance away from the house because the news crews were in the way, rather than anybody's good planning. By the look of them, the news teams were getting settled in. Scarf over her head and dark glasses on, Ada had ‘borrowed’ Maeve’s navy blue quilted jacket, trying to look normal or at least less conspicuous than her own gold lame shower proof cloak. In the rush to leave the house as discreetly as possible neither Ada nor Orla had noticed the sheet of paper in the middle of their ‘welcome’ doormat. They had just shooed the cat who was sitting on it out of the way. As they shut the door a gust of wind picked up the sheet of paper and blew it behind the old fashioned coat stand. It was just visible, with a corner peeping out, and Marieanne’s writing was recognisable, ‘Mum, I have ….’ This was Marieanne’s way of not disturbing anyone as she left for France. She would turn her phone off once she crossed the channel. If they needed her they could always call Dad, couldn’t they?

Chapter 16. Trying for normal

Marieanne and Orla had looked after Ada or maybe it was the other way around. Ada was thoroughly enjoying having young people around her, and wasn’t sure if it was all the love and attention, or the new stents, but she was feeling a million dollars. The girls had found the homemade brown bread in the freezer, made toast and coffee (Barry’s tea for Ada) adding their own favourite raspberry jam from the garden. “So Orla, what’s all this ‘eco warrior’ business I am hearing about, should I be afraid? I don’t want my beautiful granddaughter in combats looking like a para!...” Next door Maeve was doing a re-cap. Natalie had already explained and left the leaflet with Ray, as she had said “no-one takes it all in, the shock wipes your mind of everything other that your loved one is dead. You need something in black and white to read and reread later on, even then you only take it in a bit at a time.” She had been more specific when she said “We will need you, Ray, to come and identify the body in the morning. An officer will call you to arrange a time with the coroner's office in Maidstone, the body will be much nearer in the morgue in the hospital in Canterbury. A post mortem will take place and then the coroner’s office will let you know when the body can be removed to the funeral directors and you can set the date for the funeral. I expect it will take a few days because of the circumstances.” Natalie has also gone through the other aspects he might want to prepare for including the possibility of media interest. Had it been a search the police would have encouraged media interest, now they wanted to assess all the information they have before opening the floodgates. So fingers crossed they should have a day or two before the local reporters found out. Ray may not have taken it all in but a funeral was something he knew about. Handling the press was not. He was very glad that Maeve and Ada were there to help him, his daughter Ruth was flying back from Egypt and should arrive sometime during the day but definitely by nightfall. He was in the middle of telling Maeve the plans that he and Anne had made to be cremated when the coroner rang. They decided that it was best not to leave the house empty in case anyone called. Ada agreed to mind the house, or more likely ‘phone sit’ and settled in with her fresh pot of tea, while Maeve drove Ray the 10mins over to the hospital. “We shouldn’t be long, and you should be taking it easy too. I must say you are looking great,” Maeve was trying to strike a balance between her previous almost abrupt way of talking to her mother and her newfound ‘sharing’ which was a bit gushy and could sound insincere if she wasn’t careful. Ada didn’t seem to mind, “don’t rush back for me.” Ray seemed to be dealing with practical things one at a time. He ran through the list in the car, ‘identify the body, his daughter Ruth was arriving today. Must check there are clean sheets on the bed’. Maeve had a strong sense that he still hadn’t taken in that Anne wasn’t coming back and that all this was so that he could tell Anne what he had sorted out. Not long after they left the house the doorbell rang. Must have left the keys or something, Ada thought as she got up to answer it. She opened the door, with a ‘what is it now’ attitude when her jaw dropped. Standing outside was Simon Evans, the TV reporter for BBC South East. Ada knew him as a pushy young man, a reporter who would walk over anyone, twist any facts, to get a good story. Equally he knew Ada, as the crank ‘mystic’ medium who could talk to your dead relatives for a fee. In fact he had done a feature on the ‘fake psychics of Kent’ and as Ada was the most striking looking, half the footage was of her at her most flamboyant. In reality it had done Ada no harm and ultimately she got a lot of new clients from the attention, but it was a damning piece and he didn’t know that she had benefited from it and she certainly wasn’t going to tell him. Simon had already set up his ridiculous looking small iPhone on a tripod and was filming, he had his interview clothes on, a standard white shirt and tie with a sports jacket, and had a microphone already pointed towards Ada. Although Simon was clearly taken aback at seeing Ada, he did a quick rethink and went on seamlessly. “Ada McPhilips, infamous spirit medium at the house of the deceased, what can you tell us about this tragic case?” Simon had had a tip off from a friend who was a new volunteer in the police force and still so excited about his important role that he forgot Simon was a news reporter and that as a member of the police force albeit unpaid he should have kept his mouth shut. A late night beer had turned into a scoop for Simon. Simon knew that he was on thin ice, nothing had been confirmed and the name of the deceased was not yet in the public domain but a murder could get him national syndication, the exposure was just what he needed, if he could get his interview now before any other journalists arrived, he could edit it and hold the piece till he got the all clear. If he was lucky he could have it on this evening's news before anyone else even got their interview. And a medium was going to be the icing on the cake. Never mind the old saying ‘if it bleeds it leads’ he had a much better headline ‘the dead are helping the police’. Ada knew this wasn’t about her, but she had not been communing with the other side since her heart attack, a piece of information that she didn’t want to share. Convinced this was only a temporary situation and that as soon as she recovered, well she would recover her gift too, wouldn’t she? As a result she was on the defensive on two counts. How to handle this? Ada decided that confidence was the right attitude, a concerned neighbour, who would help in any way they could. That sounded right in her own head. But it didn’t end up that way. By the time they got back from the hospital it was already mid morning and both Maeve and Ray were flagging. It had been gruelling. Anne had looked peaceful, almost asleep, but Ray had taken it very badly. Maeve had been right, up till then he really thought that she would be back any minute. Now he was faced with the fact, she was dead, it was definite, final. Maeve kept him focusing on the things to be done, knowing that the grieving process wouldn’t really start until after the funeral. Years ago she had listened to Ada talking about it often enough after her father died. ‘It’s the empty place at the table; the voice messages that you don’t want to delete; that there’s nothing to look forward to; it’s all in the past now.’ It does get better as time goes on, but it takes time, a lot more time than you think. Right now, concentrating on the business of the day gets you through the next hour, the next day, and so on. Steve had left a message. The police needed to do a formal interview with Ray and also with Maeve. As soon as they were up to it could they come down to the station? Ada made them some toast and coffee to give them some strength before facing the police. Ada didn’t manage to find the right time to tell them about the BBC. It would do as soon as they got back, wouldn’t it? No rush yet. The interviews at the police station took a lot longer than Maeve was expecting. The whole process was disconcertingly professional. This wasn’t her friend Steve, this was business. There were two police officers in the interview room, and as the tape recorder was switched on Steve said, “ for the record this is Detective Stephen Maguire with Officer Sue Gosby interviewing Maeve McPhillips. You have a right to silence. Whatever you say can be used against you in a criminal case in court. If you don’t mention something now which you mention later a court might ask why you didn’t mention it at the first opportunity”. This was an interview under caution. It was at about this point that it registered with Maeve that helping the police could be misinterpreted as being a suspect. Of course, as she thought about it, without anyone else under suspicion the first people to eliminate, or suspect, of committing the crime, are the partner (as in the case of domestic abuse) or the person who found the body. Given that this person might also be the last person to see the victim alive, that put her in a precarious position. This was a shock. Shouldn’t she have a lawyer present? This not being Maeve’s world, random thoughts were running through her head and she was leaning on vaguely remembered police procedural TV shows. Then the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six popped into her mind. From the news coverage of them, she did recall that the English legal system is an adversarial system. You may be innocent until proven guilty but the role of the police is to provide the necessary evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service to convict the guilty. She felt very uncomfortable. Whatever her relationship with Steve might have been, right now they were literally on opposite sides of the table. Even though she was trembling, she knew she would regret it if she didn’t take action right now, “I think I need a lawyer present.” And with that everything stopped, “interview terminated at 1.05pm.” Once they were out of the interview room Steve tried to explain that this was just normal police procedure, that it might have been an accident or a serious crime which looked like murder. Maeve stopped him with a “I’m sure that’s what they said to the Guildford Four. So I think ‘better safe than sorry’ don’t you? And you are right, procedures are there to be followed and I should have a lawyer with me. And Ray should too. Do you have a list of appropriate lawyers that do it pro-bono, or for legal aid?” Steve was getting irritated, “we don’t think either of you had anything to do with it, but if we don’t do everything by the book we can’t clear you either.” With that they stopped talking to each other. The sourcing of legal representation was always going to slow things down, which is why Steve had tried to get through this without one. Maeve had popped out to get sandwiches for Ray and herself, the police had given them tea. Steve was on his phone pacing with frustration. He needed to be on site with the forensic team not wasting time in the station but equally he knew he had to do the interviews. By the time Maeve and Ray had had their meeting with the lawyer and finally got through the interviews, now with the lawyer present, it was late afternoon. Nothing strange or startling emerged but Maeve felt that she had done the right thing even though it felt as if she had made a fuss over nothing. She certainly didn’t make any friends at the station. As they were leaving, Ada sent a text saying that Ray’s daughter Ruth had arrived and that she had sorted food for supper, did they have any idea how long they would be? At the house Ada had left Ruth sorting herself out and had gone back to Maeve’s to put on some roast chicken and new potatoes, thinking it would do, nothing fancy and no one was likely to notice anyway. She was sufficiently distracted that she didn’t think to tell anyone about Simon’s early morning visit and that he had been filming it. Ruth and Ray came over to eat what Ada had prepared at Maeve’s and it did them all good, they could sit in comfortable silence with nothing to think about, and good food appeared on the table, in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Marieanne and Orla had known Ruth as the one they both looked up to as small girls. So there was no awkwardness. No need to prepare a face, they were all in this together. As a result none of them saw the item on TV. That night they all needed the sleep, and so it was that all their phones were on silent.

Chapter 15. The pink fleece.

The pink fleece was only just visible, Maeve took in the stillness of the body but it was the unnatural twist of the head which convinced her that Anne was dead. Standing stock still, frozen in shock, she thought, what now? On autopilot Maeve fished her phone out of her pocket and called Steve. “Stay put, don’t move, and don’t touch anything!” Steve, already on his way out of the station in Canterbury, roared up to the site on his motorbike, and was there in minutes. He had called in the info, and backup was on the way, Maeve had said she didn’t think Anne was alive, he had called the ambulance they would be needed either way, for resuscitation, or to take the body to the morgue. She hadn’t moved when Steve got there. In that moment he was both a professional police investigator and concerned ‘friend’, without hesitation he gave her a bear hug. The warmth and the energy of the hug, seemed to wake Maeve up. She looked up at Steve, with tears streaming down her face and said, “we only seem to meet in a crisis.” Steve put his arm around her shoulders, “it is getting to be a habit, us meeting in emotional circumstances” and smiled. For a beat they both avoided addressing the situation in front of them. After a pause Maeve added, “poor Anne, she didn’t deserve this.” Steve had time to scan the scene before the first local officer from the station arrived. There was nothing out of place. No footprints that he could see. The grass grows fast at this time of year so it had probably sprung back into place minutes after the killer had left the scene. The very lushness of the spring this year had hidden the body from any casual passer-by. If they were students or lecturers on their way to class they wouldn’t have noticed a thing. Once the local team arrived Steve introduced Maeve to Natalie, the police family liaison officer. It seemed like days but it was only a few hours ago that Steve had discussed the ‘missing persons’ case with his Super they had both thought it a good idea to bring Natalie on board, Steve needed someone to make sure everything was run by the book and any personal involvement wasn’t allowed to affect the case. Now it was potentially a murder he was very glad Natalie was there. There would be a media frenzy when this got out. And Ray was going to need the help. Natalie went with Steve to break the news to Ray. Maeve wasn’t up to the short walk home. When Steve offered her a lift on his bike, Natalie realised that this was Steve’s potential new love interest. This was not the time to say anything. At the house Maeve left them to it and went home to tell her children. She would go over to support Ray and relieve Ada as soon as the police left. Once the news was broken to Ray, Steve made his exit to get back to the crime scene. Natalie stayed to go over procedures, explaining what would happen over the next few days. When Steve got back the local police officers were hard at work, they had a banter that spoke of a camaraderie born of years of working together, used to dealing with the weekend brawls, the road traffic accidents and student trouble, they were a good team of professional officers and the now accepted police volunteers, they had each other’s backs. As Steve arrived they were setting up the tape cordons, and had officers in place to make sure the public didn’t interfere and spoil any evidence. It was a good clean site, no contamination. Steve thought back to his first case, things were different now, more focus on forensics. While the guys were getting on with the work he had a moment to think. Effectively, he had been first on the scene and if Maeve hadn’t been standing there he would have missed the body completely. It wasn’t just that he always thought back to his first case, this time there was a notable similarity. Without getting the official autopsy results, and as he always said assumptions were a bad idea, he was pretty sure that she had died of a broken neck, a quick twist, almost exactly like Susan. What were the odds of that happening twice in Canterbury? Plus the two crime scenes were not far apart, about a 15minutes quick walk, and nine years. Who would want to hurt an older woman out for an evening stroll? This was no Saturday night alcohol fuelled domestic. This was cold. Was it premeditated? Scenario planning is part of the job, but jumping to conclusions isn’t. That’s where good procedures kick in, forcing everyone to follow the right steps and gather information without prejudice, annoyingly it tends to work. The paramedics were waiting with the ambulance, they had to stay until they were given permission to take the body to the morgue. As it happens it was the Hazard Area Response team that had been sent. Steve could hear one of the paramedics chatting to the officer standing guard. “Canterbury has a surprising number of random deaths, I’ve had heroin overdoses, a drunken student falling down the stairs landing smack on his head, blood everywhere,” he seemed to be enjoying telling his stories, “one old guy we were called to had been dead a while, he must have fallen badly and twisted his neck, a bit grim by the time we got there. And then there are the homeless ones who die of exposure sometimes in the woods and one died right on the High Street, where there must have been people all around him. Not many in or around the university though. And I have never seen a murder before. Of course we normally deal with the living, rescuing people from beaches or cliffs.” Steve was letting it wash over him, at the same time he was going through a similar litany of untimely deaths, which scenario would lead them to the killer? Were any of them linked? A shout alerted the paramedic to the fact that the body in the crime scene had been recorded and that the body was now ready to be taken away for autopsy and any relevant forensic investigation. Natalie had talked Ray through the next steps enough times now that she was beginning to wonder if he had early dementia too. Ada picked up on the unintended signs of impatience, “why don’t you leave him now, love. You’ve been great. And we have all the information we need right now. Ray has your number if he thinks of anything useful. We all need the rest so I’m saying we turn in and call it a day. Tomorrow we can deal with the next steps.” Ray was grateful, though he still kept coming back to the questions that were uppermost in his mind. “The funeral, we have to sort that out, there will be an awful lot of people…”, he was having trouble taking it in which was clear when he added “Anne will….”, as if she was going to appear and take over organising her own funeral, then stopping and putting his head in his hands. Ada suggested he take a sleeping tablet which he had already decided on. Maeve arrived and hearing this said, “you’re right Ada, everyone out. I’m staying here to make sure Ray is okay. Thank you officer you have been really helpful”. Within a few minutes Maeve closed the door on them all, and made herself a cup of tea. She had suggested that Ray get ready for bed and she would check in on him. She had taken a spare duvet and was going to wrap herself up on the sofa. When she looked in on Ray he was already out for the count, the sleeping pill had kicked in. But he was restless tossing from side to side mumbling clearly going over it all in his dreams. She didn’t think he would sleep for long. She settled herself, feet up on the couch balancing the mug of hot tea. Putting it down for a minute she stretched out thinking how surprisingly comfortable she was. The next thing she knew, Ray was beside her washed and dressed holding out a fresh mug of tea, so much for her vigil.

Chapter 14. Queen Ada, or Queen Maeve?

The girls were already back from school by the time Maeve and Ada arrived. They were wonderful and took over the unpacking and fussing around Ada so that Maeve could drop in on Ray. As she left them Orla was trying on Ada’s floral orange and pink silk kimono. She just made out Ada saying “that’s not how you tie it darling, here let me show you how you can be spiritual but still sexy, that’s better. Gorgeous. You have the best look. Youth!”, was the last she heard as the door closed. When Maeve got back home she was on a mission, she filled the others in on the current situation. It was just coming up to 48 hours since Anne had gone missing. Ray had given her permission to share the information and start organising volunteers for a local search. “Anne is in the early stages of dementia, it was diagnosed a few years ago and they have been fending it off, or at least slowing it down with diet, a daily glass of wine and green vegetables seems to be the core of it. Anyway right now she is at the stage when normally she is okay, just forgetful, but stress causes confusion. So she may be quite close by, but not able to recognise the streets, it’s possible that she won’t recognise us either. I got a reasonable photo of her from Ray. Orla can you scan it? Marieanne, while Orla’s doing that can you write some text with a contact number and then we should print out, let's say 100 copies? What do you think? And contact number, maybe my mobile? Ray is too distressed at the moment to deal with it other than to physically go and look for her. After he called the police he seemed to think he had done everything. Actually, most importantly, Ada, can you go over and look after Ray? He’s going to need help telling his kids. They are grown up and living abroad, I think. Once the flyers are printed the rest of us can get a search party going.” The girls were on it, licketty spit, Orla talking almost to herself as she was working, “are you sure we need that many? Don’t want any extra waste, but then, this actually is a real case of life or death, so scrub that, 100 copies it is.” Ada had had a rest so was happy to freshen up and go round to Ray, “such a nice man, he will need comfort, someone to listen, you are right I will be the best person for it.” Maeve checked in with Steve. On average Steve had up to twenty cases on the go, that’s twenty victims and at least twenty suspects, it meant organising the day in priorities. Urgent versus important. They were all important, and to each of the victims they might be the most important thing in their life, but many of the cases dealt with crimes from some time ago. Urgent meant just that, a crime that was being committed now or trying to stop a crime being committed. A few years back Steve had moved from the Road Policing Unit to CID, Criminal Investigation Department, because it was a promotion, he was more autonomous, and he got to use his brains. The job had always been stressful, and in the beginning it had been an exciting challenge. You put the hours in and do the job with care and you can make a difference. But over the last few years their numbers had been cut, so more cases, more stress, but still for the same reward. Lately Steve had even been looking at going private, rather the private companies had been trying to tempt him away from the force. This problem wasn’t specific to Steve, in general the police were having difficulty in keeping detectives for the same reasons that Steve was having second thoughts, too much work, which meant you were not able to do the job you signed up for. The pay wasn’t great either but that wasn’t the main reason, it was not being able to do the job, that was depressing. At HQ he was a valued member of the team and they were keen to keep him, so during his annual review when Steve suggested to his line manager that they try a pilot scheme to let him work closer to home, and make a remote base at Canterbury they agreed. If this turned out to be a fiasco then it would be back to Maidstone. Steve really wanted this to work out. When Maeve called she went through her plan. Flyers to the neighbours and get them to volunteer, her mobile as the point of contact, as they did the rounds they would attach flyers to any lamp posts or shop windows they could. It was already evening so although they were planning the local walk around now they didn’t think they could do the open spaces or nearby fields till daylight. Ada was acting as Ray’s ‘representative’, meaning she was based next door and could answer any queries or deal with any drop-ins. “I think we need to be completely in lock-step on this, so can you prepare but hold off action till we have coordinated our actions? Give us 20mins and then touch base.” Steve had escalated the case back at HQ. It was now just passed the 48 hour mark so if there was no immediate news they would launch a full scale search. Steve was in the station working out the planned routes to search and what they could get the volunteers to do. The early summer evenings were lengthening and there was still some daylight, Maeve said to the girls that she needed a quick walk to stretch her legs while they were doing the flyers. She hadn’t wanted to tell them about Kamal, she still wasn’t comfortable with the concept. Kamal had told her she needed to go to their rocket launch site at the University near the dome. Maeve had had to do some quick ‘googling’ to find out where that launch site in the old photo actually was. It turned out that what had been Parkwood, a green field area, was now luxurious student accommodation. So where exactly should she be looking? She headed over to the general area and was lost in thought when she felt someone close behind her almost touching her shoulder. She jumped. It was Kevin, the weird, unpleasant guy from the hospital. “Glad you came to see me. Most of the time I am in the dark, in the basement, don’t see many people down there. Good to come up for a fag break.” Maeve knew that he wasn’t there in person but his presence was so strong, she could almost smell his body odour and the stale nicotine clinging to his clothes. He took a drag on the cigarette in his mouth and bizarrely Maeve could now smell the fresh smoke. He hadn’t stopped talking, “so before I tell you anything let’s get a few things straight. I am not your friend. I don’t give a shit about you or anyone else. But I know what’s what. These smart arses in charge think they know everything and I know nothing. Ponces. All fine and dandy till something doesn’t work, the heating, the projector, the internet whatever, then it's all ‘Ooooh, Get Kevin, he’ll know how to fix it’. Well I do. And I know how to fix a lot more besides.” Maeve really wanted to get away from him, would he follow her? Is he the reason Kamal wanted her to come up here? Then she thought, is he the reason Kamal wanted her to come up here? She didn’t think so and if not, she really didn’t have time for this. “Where were we? Oh yes, those sods who know nothing but think they are better than me. In the maintenance room I have time and access to the internet. The Uni is part of ‘super Janet’ our superfast broadband, you can find out about anything you want on the internet, specially YouTube,” He seemed to be rambling, wanting Maeve to listen, so far he hadn’t said anything important then, “I joined some online groups, and found like minded people. That’s where I met the killer!” Maeve’s head swung round, he had her full attention now. “Got you there didn’t I?”, said with a smug attempt at a cross between a laugh and a snigger, before continuing, “well listen up, it's not over yet! I know a lot about it but if you want to know more, you have to show me some respect, you have to listen to my story.” Maeve was backing away from him as he spoke, he didn’t stop talking “Ooh, don’t go there, you’re going to spoil it all now.” His attitude changed, “No matter, you still need me to solve the mystery. I know a lot about things around here, strange things. But only when you’re ready to listen,....” he wasn’t following her but by the time she realised it she had almost backed into the trees edging the campus. She turned to see where she was going. That’s when she saw the body.

Chapter 13. Anne is missing.

Steve got back to the station and was typing up his notes hoping that Maeve would text him soon. He needed the maximum background info he could gather to assess whether this was a person at ‘significant risk’ of coming to harm, or a case that came under the ‘no apparent risk (absent)’ heading and just needed monitoring. If it was the former, and he thought it was, he should report it to the Super immediately. When he looked back at the note he had received he saw the mistake that the desk duty officer had made. The report said ‘young woman’ so probably lower risk, whereas in fact it should have read ‘Mrs Young, woman…’ It was her name, Anne Young, and the husband didn’t want anyone to know that she had started showing signs of dementia. That put her into a higher risk category. Ray, the husband, said they were keeping the dementia to themselves for as long as they could, hadn’t even told the children so when she didn’t come home he thought she might just have taken the wrong turning. Ray had explained “It’s not really noticeable yet, but when she makes a mistake she gets flustered and that can make it a lot worse, so I thought if she made a few wrong turns she would have got herself really lost.” Anne is in her seventies and still very active. She should be fine. The real problem was that Ray had waited almost 24 hours before calling it in. Tonight would be her second night in the open. Whatever Maeve knew, or had heard, it was absolutely right, it was urgent. Luckily the weather had been pretty mild but still the effects of exposure would further disorientate Anne. Plus she was not that warmly dressed, he had a note of a lightweight bright pink fleece, no coat . Ray had been in such a state when he was talking to Steve, that Steve hadn’t got much more useful information Ray kept repeating himself, ‘she’s a walker, she’s fit, she’s just on a long walk, she’ll come through that door in a minute and ask what’s all the fuss about’. But she hadn’t. When she was late home, Ray had gone out and walked all her usual routes, then all the other possible roads in about a mile radius. By the time he had talked to Steve, he was utterly worn out. As Steve typed, he thought, she is high risk. He hadn’t wanted to send his report to the Super because he should have picked it up earlier, it wouldn’t look well. Damn it! All this talk about a new woman too. Nothing for it. Steve had always done the right thing no matter how badly it reflected on him. By the time Maeve left Ray she was drained. The poor man was completely exhausted. Clearly he had been bottling it up inside, all the worries over managing with Anne’s dementia and now this. As soon as Maeve asked the right questions it poured out. Maeve made him multiple cups of tea, trying to feed him at the same time, he mustn’t have eaten since Anne went missing which wasn’t helping. He needed some food and rest. Meanwhile Maeve was keeping an eye on the clock, she didn’t want to be late for Ada. When she couldn’t put it off any longer she said, “I have to dash. Why don’t you get some sleep to be ready if Anne comes home? You need to eat something and then have a sleep. That sandwich is still on the table, try and have a bite. Then you will be full of beans. I’ll only be gone for a few hours. As soon as I get back and get Ada settled, I’ll be over and we can sort out shifts so that there is always someone here in case she comes back under her own steam. We can make a plan together.” It was the best she could do for the moment and Ray seemed relieved that he wasn’t on his own, and someone was making decisions for him. As she got into the car, she called Steve, he didn’t pick up in time so it went to voicemail. “Sorry, I can’t stop, I’m late. Susan already said it and I know Anne, I am convinced that she is in serious trouble, Steve. We need to do something. Maybe if I go door to door? I will get Ray to agree that we have to tell people, I’ll get a photo from him if you don’t have one already, we need help. I’m dashing off to get Ada, I’ll be on it as soon as I get back.” Once Ada had come through the operation, Maeve thought her dramas were over, now here she was in the middle of another one. Focus on one thing at a time, she thought, like that old trick of lining coins up on your arm and tossing them into the air, if you catch them one after the other you can get them all, if you try to catch all the coins in one go, you will drop the lot. One at a time. One at a time and I will get there, at least thinking that helped her get through the quick shop and drive over to the hospital. Steve had already emailed his report to the Super, but with a sigh he knew this wasn’t going to be enough, plus he had a stack of ongoing cases and he needed to check some of the paper files back at HQ. He set off for Maidstone. Canterbury station was up to speed and if, or more like when, this needed to be escalated at least he would be able to work with Maeve to get the neighbours involved and she would be offline for the next few hours at a minimum. Given the state he was in when Steve left him, he didn’t think Ray would be up to organising any local volunteers on his own. Settling his mind on riding the bike perfectly brought him a sense of peace, and with Jimmy Hendrix’s ‘Ezy Rider’ running through his head he was at one with the road. Maeve walked in to see Ada looking like a film star, “wasn’t I lucky? The hairdresser and make-up lady were doing their rounds today and I got a total makeover!” They had moved her to the general ward and she had been in her element entertaining the other patients. She wasn’t in a rush to go, and as ever had a string of goodbyes and thank yous to get through. Maeve felt the irritation rise, then she stopped, took a breath, and thought how glad she was that Ada was there. Breathing out slowly allowing the smile to spread across her face, Maeve went to the reception desk to check that they had all the right paperwork and that Ada’s next outpatient appointment was in order. “Come on, prima donna, your other public are waiting!” Ada was delighted with all the attention, with a final cheeky, “good-bye Nurse Ratched” they left the hospital. In fact Ada didn’t need the make-up, the stents had had an amazing effect, the increased blood flow gave her cheeks a healthy glow that had been missing. Seeing the improvement made Maeve realise that Ada had been looking pale and tired, she should have noticed it before. Feeling selfish she was now determined to do better. Maeve knew she would have to break habits formed in childhood to create this new relationship, and made herself a promise to do it now. They had been given a second chance and had to make the most of it. To change the dynamics they really needed something to do, a project, something they could do together, as equals. Ada was on a roll, “Maeve darling, we have to go by the house in Sandgate, I have no clothes, no make-up, nothing. I’m quite happy to have a robe and a rice bowl, so long as the robe is Issey Miyake, however I don't think Marieanne and Orla would approve. And I need my electric toothbrush, can’t live without that!....” Ada went on and the list got longer, Maeve realised that she was going to be doing the packing with Ada shouting ‘helpful’ comments; it wasn’t going to be easy to keep her promise. As quick as they could but longer than planned, Maeve and Ada set off for Canterbury. Ada had taken her favourite soft cushion with the deep purple velvet and Chinese embroidery cover, as a ‘make-do’ for the back of the car, so that she could ‘rest, following doctors orders’ on the journey. Actually even though she was clearly revelling in her new role, she did look tired and Maeve was glad to have some time to mull things over herself. They had only crossed the motorway when Maeve heard Ada snore, smiling to herself she knew that this was best not mentioned. Concentrating on the by-pass after the motorway, Maeve was a little disconcerted when she felt and then heard Kamal, he was sitting in the front passenger seat. Of course, this was his road, his last journey. Given all her recent experiences, this didn’t phase Maeve much, if fact it felt like seeing a friend that she was ‘getting to know properly’. She was glad that he was there. He started “It's okay, I know what you have done. You have begun.. that’s good. And when it's over and you have found the killer, please tell my story, I am no terrorist, I am just ordinary guy, you saw the photo, we started the rocket society, the ‘Space Society’. But maybe you don’t know, there are people there at the University who think the earth is flat and that our work is wrong, against their religion, they want to stop us. Not only terrorists are bad people, these conspiracy people are bad people too. But now there is something else, I know, and there is more for you to do, and I can help.”


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