The Desolate Garden
The first time I saw her was three days after I was told that my father had died.
All the national newspapers had carried the story in their first editions; most describing him as a private banker, others as simply a financier. All had speculated as to why. The majority of the more respectful had suggested pressure, and stress in the current financial world. However, the most popular tabloids had repeated the accusation for which he had successfully sued them, that his money had come from unscrupulous and tyrannical rulers of various African countries. Only this time they glossed over some previously mentioned names, and added the word 'alleged.' They had not known that he had been murdered.
* * *
“Tell me a joke,” she said. She was seated at the table nearest the bar in the Dukes Hotel, in London's St James's.
“What?” I replied, in complete surprise.
“I've had a really shitty day, and I need cheering up. Come and join me,” she suggested, enticing me in from the lobby.
She was about thirty but, in the dim seductive light of the world-renowned Martini bar, I could have been wrong by ten years either way. She had long curly dark hair, penetrating large eyes of an indeterminable colour, and a very attractive face. As to her figure, I had no way of knowing for sure but, from what I could see, she was quite petite. A colourful shawl draped from a glimpse of bare shoulder, and the cut of the red dress she wore was modest and high. What stood out was her perfume. The clear, smoke free atmosphere carried an array of sweet aromas, mingling with the gin and lemons and the fresh damp air of the outside night, but hers was the sweetest. It reminded me of raspberries ripening on autumn canes, mixed with jojoba oil and honey. I smelled of whiskey and tobacco; not the catch of the night, I supposed.
“What makes you think I'm here on my own and not with my wife?” I replied flattered and interested, but guarded, unforthcoming to her obvious appeal.
“Well, you're not wearing a wedding ring for a start. Want me to go on?” My new friend said playfully.
I nodded my acquiescence, adding, “Why not…I've got nothing better to do with my time,” trying to seem disinterested, which I definitely was not.
“Your shirt could do with an iron and the suit has seen better days, your hair needs a trim and, quite honestly, you look out of place. Not a local…by many a mile. Up from the country for a day or perhaps two, no more than that I'd say. You've been dragged here reluctantly and want to get back to the farm as soon as you can. Anyway, I only asked for a joke, not a page by page description of your inactive life.”
“Perhaps my lady friend is equally unattractive,” I responded to her accurate assumption and correct observation.
“That's an old-fashioned expression but at least it establishes that you're not gay, plus you're not pretty enough anyway. I'm Judith by the way. What did those lady friends of yours call you, when you were younger and playing the field?”
“Am I that ancient? Thank goodness I left my bath-chair back in my room. I would have felt embarrassed had I have brought it.”
* * *
This was the second invitation I'd had in three days to have a conversation with someone I had never met. All of a sudden my hitherto selected social circle of friends was widening; and one of those acquaintances was not welcome.
Joseph, my butler, had answered the front door to the knock I had heard, and was now standing in front of me announcing the arrival.
“There is a police officer wishing to see you, Sir. Shall I show him through?”
“Lord Paterson? I'm Detective Chief Superintendent Fletcher of the Special Branch. I've got some news for you about your father…may I come in?”
It had been the previous Sunday, around about three in the afternoon, and I had just driven home from my local pub after spending all morning blasting crows out of the sky. I reeked of alcohol, sweat, and cordite. The twelve-bore 'Purdy' shotgun lay dismantled on the gun-room table, and the rest of my gear was scattered around the floor. He glanced at the gun.
“Been busy, Sir?” He asked, in an official police tone.
“Yes. One of my tenants keep sheep, and they're lambing. The crows pick out the lambs' eyes almost the minute they're born, nasty creatures, so I lend a hand killing as many we can. My license is in the estate office, if you want to see it? Incidentally I'm not a Lord, only a lowly Honourable.” I replied, without looking at him.
“I never knew that about crows. As for the license, that won't be necessary.” He paused. “I'm afraid that your father was found shot in the head by the housekeeper at his home in Eton Square, London, at ten past one this morning; so, as I understand it, you are now a Lord,” he stated, in the standard perfunctory, manner that the police inform relatives of the unfortunate. “Can you think of anyone who may have wanted to kill him?” He enquired, without a change of tone to his voice or any pretence of remorse.
The shame of it was that I could not. However, that did not imply that he had no enemies; only that I had been unable to discover them, and I should have.
“Absolutely none. He was the last person I would have thought of to have had enemies. It might have been money they were after…he had plenty of that,” I declared, not trying to hide my indifference.
“He was alone in the ground floor sitting room. There were signs of a forced entry Sir, and the housekeeper says that he was alone that night. He had no company.” His monosyllabic style of speaking was beginning to annoy me.
“Was there anything missing?” I asked, knowing exactly what the housekeeper meant by company.
“No, Sir, nothing that the housekeeper or his valet knows of. I was hoping you might be able to provide some information, throw some light on it. Has he been in touch with you lately?” He asked, fingering the bespoke carved stock. “Very lovely gun. Expensive, I expect,” he added.
“Yes to the gun, and no regarding him being in touch,” I curtly replied. I had never had much time for the police and he was not changing my opinion.
“Has he written at all, or perhaps telephoned you in the past with any worries he had…any problems he was having with anyone?”
“Can't help you there. A private man my father, not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.”
“You wouldn't have any of his old letters to you, would you?”
“No, sorry. I don't keep things like that.” I took a sip from the glass of whisky I had poured in readiness for the gun cleaning ritual that I always enjoyed doing myself. I had not offered him anything, nor was likely to, even though he looked the drinking type, grey inanimate eyes, a bulbous red nose under which was a nicotine-stained moustache and, even further down, a fat rounded beer belly. I was not in a social or generous mood, and had no wish to adjudicate on the innate evils of modern society as seen through the eyes of the law.
“It's just that we could not find the exchange number for the home here in Harrogate on any telephone records of his. Clearly he didn't like the phone or is it you that's got an aversion to telephones?” He asked, smiling, as if attempting to ingratiate himself. But I was not in any sort of a jovial conversational mood, either.
“Look… he and I didn't get on. We haven't spoken to each other since he left before my mother died. I haven't spoken to him or seen him in almost two years and, quite frankly, I don't give a toss that he's dead. If that's all, Detective Chief Superintendent, I've got lot more important things to do than discuss the personal relationship the two of us had or didn't have.”