Authors: R. T. Raichev
R. T. Raichev
’Tis the sharpness of her mind that gives the
edge to my pains!
In appreciation and with much love.
‘All is not well;
I doubt some foul play.’
, Act I scene ii
‘One mustn’t refuse the unusual, if it is offered to one.’
Passenger to Frankfurt
Three minutes passed before they realized he was dead and another two before it was established how he had died, though any suspicious observer might have argued that at least one of the five people in the room had been aware of both facts all along.
‘Don’t go near him,’ Dr Sylvester-Sale said, removing the cardboard crown from his head.
‘Stop filming. I am talking to you, Augustine. Get the bloody camera out of the way at once!’ As Clarissa Remnant raised her hand, her bracelet in the shape of a coiled serpent glinted ominously.
‘But – how is that possible?’ Basil Hunter said. ‘Are you – are you sure, SS?’
‘Why are you still filming, Augustine? Are you out of your mind? Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Clarissa Remnant’s eyes flashed. Her crown was still on her head.
‘We must turn the music off,’ Louise Hunter said. ‘We really must.’
But nobody did. The scratchy LP continued to revolve on the ancient wind-up gramophone with its huge brass horn, and ‘The Bilbao Song’ was followed by ‘Le Roi d’Aquitaine’.
The door opened and a middle-aged woman in glasses entered the room. ‘It’s so hot – I am afraid I felt faint – I don’t think the air-conditioning system is working properly, is it?’ She sounded breathless.
She stood peering at the body on the couch. ‘Is Lord Remnant unwell?’
‘He is dead,’ Basil Hunter said.
‘Would one of you take the camera from Augustine? The man is a complete idiot, or else he’s doing it on purpose!’ There was something terrifying about Clarissa’s white make-up and lips the colour of old blood.
But how dreadful,’ Hortense Tilling whispered.
‘The little beast,’ Dr Sylvester-Sale said. He was looking in the direction of the french windows. ‘He did it after all. He said he would – and he did.’
‘I don’t think you should jump to conclusions, Syl,’ Clarissa said.
It was perhaps unfortunate that it was to Hortense Tilling, Clarissa’s aunt, that Augustine handed the camera.
‘Oh dear. Is this the right way to hold it? It’s not upside down, is it? I’m terribly sorry but I’m hopeless with cameras,’ Hortense moaned. ‘Perfectly hopeless.’
Having been very pale, her face was flushed now. She was frightened but also excited. Her thoughts were confused. Dead – Lord Remnant was no more – it wasn’t dreadful at all – one always said things one didn’t mean – the beast was dead – destroyed at last –
questo è il fin di chi fa mal
– this is the end of evildoers – there should be singing and dancing in the streets – the death of those who do evil is always the same as their lives!
was her favourite opera.
‘I have no idea how this thing works,’ she said. ‘No idea at all.’
‘It doesn’t matter how it works. Really, Aunt Hortense!
Just turn the bloody thing off
.’ Clarissa Remnant sounded at the end of her tether.
‘We must call an ambulance,’ Louise Hunter said.
‘I don’t think that would be much use,’ Clarissa said.
‘The police – we
call the police. It would be wrong if we didn’t call the police. We’d be breaking the law.’
‘Shut up, Louise,’ Clarissa said. ‘Just shut up.’
The next moment she turned and left the room.
Renée Glover was the only one who hadn’t uttered a word. Clarissa wasn’t going to call the police. Of course not. Clarissa would come up with a plan. Basil Hunter would go along with anything Clarissa said, of that Renée had no doubt. So would Syl. Old Hortense was still struggling with the camera. Louise Hunter seemed larger than ever and she had an outraged expression on her face. Renée tried to catch Dr Sylvester-Sale’s eye and failed. They’d agreed to be careful, but surely they could look at each other when Clarissa was not about?
The silk curtains were drawn across the french windows and they stirred slightly. Was that the evening breeze – or was someone standing there?
Renée walked up to the curtains and pulled them apart sharply. She didn’t believe the killer would be outside.
Behind the net curtains the windows gaped wide open.
Renée Glover walked out through the french windows and glanced round the terrace. No one. The warm Caribbean night closed in on her. The stars shone with fierce brilliancy – was that Canopus? The full moon above the palm trees had a purplish tinge. Only an hour previously she had stood on this very spot, admiring the crimson-streaked sunset and listening to the surf and the mournful cries of seagulls …
All was quiet now. There was not a breath of wind, just a wonderful balminess in the air. The only sound was that of the insects, a kind of low, steady hiss produced by the
rubbing together of thousands of gossamer wings. A moth brushed lightly against her face.
She gazed into the night, at the great avenue of spreading palms thick with shadows, at the harbour lights in the distance. Odd, that she was not at all afraid. Suddenly she heard a tiny splashing noise close by, then another. Stephan? He liked sitting beside the pool, dropping in pebbles.
Her nostrils twitched as they caught a whiff of something she thought was familiar.
familiar. But it belonged to a different place – it belonged to London – to Belgrave Square—
Moonlight lay in knife-shaped patterns on the terrace. She took a step to the left and stumbled over something—
A monstrous head with preternaturally long ears leered up at her.
The head was made of papier-mâché. A gleaming object lay beside it.
gleaming objects. Renée glanced over her shoulder, then stooping, she quickly picked up the smaller of the two objects and put it in her pocket.
It had taken her exactly three seconds to realize what the smaller object was and to whom it belonged. Had she been right about the smell then?
A moment later the others joined her on the terrace. Someone gasped—
Renée Glover’s expression didn’t change. She prided herself on being able to exercise perfect control over her emotions.
In St John’s Wood Lady Grylls was talking to her butler.
She was not wild about going to Roderick Remnant’s funeral, she wasn’t in any way
, she was merely a cousin twice removed, but there was nothing better to do at the moment, so would Provost have the goodness to get her hat out? Her
hat, she added, not her wedding one. The two hats were strangely similar and no one would notice, so perhaps it didn’t really matter, though of course one liked to do the right thing.
And could she have another glass of sherry? She didn’t think the hat needed cleaning, or dusting, for that matter. She had worn it only the other week, for Caroline Heppenstall’s funeral. Caroline had been a mere seventy-two. These days Lady Grylls went to more funerals and memorial services than weddings. Most of her friends’ grandchildren were already married and some of the
-grandchildren too, now wasn’t that extraordinary? Made one feel positively ancient.
‘But don’t misunderstand me, Provost, I am not in the least depressed. Not a bit of it. I am now quite used to funerals. Well, I’ll be eighty-two this year, so that’s perhaps how it should be. How many funerals do you think I have attended so far?’
‘This year, m’lady?’
‘No. In my entire life.’
‘I couldn’t say, m’lady.’
‘Come on. Have a guess.’
‘A thousand, m’lady? Two thousand?’
‘Don’t be silly, Provost. Twenty-eight. One day I sat down and calculated. My doctor keeps telling me I need to exercise the old cerebellum, otherwise it will simply stop functioning. I may have omitted one or two, mind.’ She took a sip of sherry. ‘I will go to Roderick’s funeral, but I don’t think I will attend his memorial service.
there is a memorial service. I cannot imagine anything in Roderick’s life that deserves to be celebrated as such. I have an idea he won’t be much mourned.’
‘Perhaps not, m’lady, but it will be some time before Lord Remnant is forgotten.’
‘Roderick’s personality may have been more forcefully colourful than those of the bland and timid masses, but one does tend to forget people the moment they stop coming to dinner, Provost. Certain people one even forgets
dinner. It’s most disconcerting. You look across the table and you wonder, who the hell
that? You don’t think I am suffering from Old Timer’s, do you?’
‘Old Timer’s, m’lady?’
‘That’s what Mary Gaunt calls it, awfully funny. You know what I mean – the brain-melting disease. I seem to have forgotten its name, which is a bad enough sign.’
‘I don’t think you are suffering from Alzheimer’s, m’lady,’ Provost said.
Lady Grylls took another sip of sherry. She had known Roderick Remnant’s first wife, the tragic Deirdre, rather well. Deirdre had been at school with one of Lady Grylls’s younger cousins. Lady Grylls didn’t care much for Roderick Remnant’s
wife, who was the widow now. She had been younger than him, though no spring chicken, on the
wrong side of forty, or so Lady Grylls believed, though forty-five was considered ‘young’ these days. ‘What was her name now?’
‘Clarissa, m’lady. Née Vuillaumy.’
Lady Grylls cupped her ear. ‘
? How terribly interesting. Suggestive, wouldn’t you say? Clarissa is apparently one of those women who don’t improve with age, only learn new ways of misbehaving themselves. She has a son, but he is not Roderick’s son.’
‘Lady Remnant has a son from a previous marriage, m’lady. The young man’s name is Stephan Farrar.’
‘Stephan, that’s right. I understand he takes drugs. Same as your boy used to do, only worse, much worse, I think. Gerard Fenwick is Roderick’s only brother. I used to be great chums with Felicity Fenwick’s mama. Gerard will be – what?’
‘The thirteenth earl. According to Debrett’s.’
‘It seems to me you know too much about the aristocracy, Provost, it’s positively unhealthy. You need to get yourself a girlfriend. Gerard writes, or tries to. Everybody nowadays seems terribly keen on becoming a writer. Can’t understand it myself. My niece-in-law writes detective stories, though she says her advances are staggeringly small. Felicity dabbles in interior decorating and sells furniture, I believe.’
‘The new Lady Remnant has a shop in South Kensington, m’lady.’
‘The extraordinary things you know, Provost. You should be on
. The Fenwicks are frightfully nice. As it happens, Hugh’s got his eye on Felicity’s Damascus chest, so it’s a small world. I have an idea neither Felicity nor Gerard cares for Roderick’s island. What
the island called? There was a TV documentary about it. Somewhere in the Caribbean.’
‘The Grenadin Island. One of the Valance group. Previously known as the St Philippe group.’
‘What fun that documentary was. I believe we watched it together, Provost, didn’t we? It made Roderick look quite mad. That high-pitched giggle! Those snow-white pyjamas! Never took them off. Had
, he said. Boasted about it. Would you boast about it if you had fifteen pairs of
‘The way he strutted about, fanning himself! He looked a bit like Alec Guinness playing Lawrence of the Caribbean in an Ealing comedy.’
‘It was not the most flattering of representations, m’lady.’
‘Far from it. Well, Roderick had only himself to blame, though I don’t think he was the sort of man who blamed himself for anything. The camera made a big thing of his outsize sombrero, his temper tantrums and his fan. How did he explain the fan now?’
‘Lord Remnant said that in another existence he must have been a geisha, m’lady.’
The Grenadier of Grenadin
. That’s what the documentary was called, I believe? No doubt a reference to the fact that Roderick had been in the Guards as a young man. But why did they call it a
-documentary? Have you any idea?’
‘I am afraid I haven’t, m’lady.’
‘I must say Roderick behaved terribly badly. At one point the camera showed him waving money at what was said to be a transvestite prostitute. He then kicked the documentary director in the shin and hit him on the head with his fan! Remember, Provost?’
‘I do remember, m’lady.’
‘That poor chap! It looked as though he was going to cry. Roderick said he had many abilities including irritability. That was terribly funny, though of course one could see what an impossible character he was.’
‘Lord Remnant gave every appearance of enjoying himself. He talked about his profligate lifestyle with considerable relish.’
Lord Remnant had boasted of spending forty million pounds on buying and developing property and throwing parties. He had admitted to blowing ten thousand on a special kind of tent which had been hand-made in Ceylon and delivered to Grenadin by helicopter.
‘Back in the seventies those parties were considered the epitome of glitz and glamour, Provost. Or what in the seventies passed for glitz and glamour. Roderick became known as the Jet Set Monarch. He was always photographed wearing a crown … I believe he was interested in witchcraft as well?’
‘Lord Remnant dabbled in voodoo or hoodoo, m’lady. Apparently he attempted to resurrect the dead.’
‘His idea of a party trick, I suppose. Well, it seems to be the right part of the world for that sort of thing.’
Provost cleared his throat. ‘Lord Remnant and his family were said to be under a curse, m’lady. It has been claimed that he built La Sorcière on top of a piece of West Indian holy ground, which he should never have done.’
‘The curse, yes. It all comes back to me now. Well, I don’t know. It’s true that Remnants have had all sorts of problems. Roderick never had any children. Poor wretched Deirdre became a kleptomaniac following her menopause, then she hanged herself most inexplicably. They say Clarissa has had as many lovers as there are Chinamen in China. I am sure you know all about Clarissa’s lovers, Provost?’
‘I am afraid not, m’lady,’ Provost said after a little pause.
‘The stepson is a drug fiend and he’s got a screw loose. Roderick has now died at the comparatively young age of
and the title has passed to his younger brother who is a compulsive scribbler, though he can’t get anything published.’
‘Most distinguished families are said to have a curse. The Sassoons, the Tennants, the Kennedys, the Grimaldis—’
‘Sometimes, Provost, I wonder if a curse is not just a handy way of excusing generations of self-indulgence and general bad behaviour.’
‘Certain members of the Royal Family used to be regular visitors at La Sorcière, but then they suddenly and for no apparent reason stopped going.’
‘Is that to be blamed on the curse as well?’ Lady Grylls appeared amused. ‘You don’t have to speak of the Royal Family in such hushed tones, Provost. Ridiculous. I don’t suppose you still pray for the Royal Family, do you? You do? Goodness. Remnant parties were the stuff of legend. One had to be terribly amusing or good-looking or fascinating or outrageous to get an invitation to a Remnant party. Not any longer, it seems. Still, they appear to have been getting up to all sorts of silly things. The latest craze – there was something about it in the
. What was it? Miltonesque litanies?’
‘Shakespearean capers, my lady.’
‘Sounds like the kind of thing that would drive me mad. Who was the ugly character in Shakespeare who lived on an island?’
‘Are you sure, Provost? I thought the Caliban was a somewhat extreme Afghan nationalist movement.’
‘That’s the Taliban, m’lady.’
‘I wonder if the stepson will be at the funeral. The stepson is subject to sudden and intense disorientation, or so they say. His head, apparently, poses great problems for the medical brains of Harley Street. They keep sending him to some terribly expensive place, but then he comes back and the whole thing starts all over again. He hates his stepfather.
, one should say. I understand he threatened to kill him on a great number of occasions.’