Charles was sat in his London house. He was beginning to think it was a little overcrowded with furniture. He had managed to save his favourite pieces from the country house before the sale went through. It was meant to be sold as seen, but after Charles had played his trump card with the estate agent, he felt he was capable of anything. so took what he wanted and left the rest.
There had been a slight delay whilst Scotland Yard had taken a look over the place, but they didn’t find anything new for their murder investigation. They had now begun interviewing the surviving family members, Charles was in fact awaiting the arrival of his cousin Alex, the latest of D.I, Deacon’s victims. Alex and Charles had become close during the first war and had worked together in military intelligence during the second. Charles had no concerns about Alex dealing with Deacon.
As Alex’s car pulled up outside, a small boy ran into the room Charles was inhabiting. The small boy was in fact Charles’ son, Daniel.
“Daddy, play trains?” The child asked.
“In a moment Danny. Maybe Uncle Alex will want to play instead!” Charles said hopefully.
“Don’t you see? The empire is over. In a hundred years time, no one is going to be talking about the sun never setting on empire. The sun will have set and we will very much be in the middle of a long, cold, dark, night.” Alex said.
“Well someone will have to rule the world if we aren’t doing it. Who do you propose that will be?” Charles responded. He had got a bit bored of Alex’s doomsaying, but he was a cousin, so had to be given some allowances.
“The Chinese probably. Maybe the Yanks, Indians even, but it won’t be us. We will be some awful shadow, a pale reminder, like the Romans and Greeks. Once mighty, now just somewhere rich foreigners send their children to be educated and who themselves come and visit, slowly stealing away the heritage. God I really am depressing. Pass the brandy would you.”
Charles handed him the Brandy.
“Anyway Charley boy, how’s your war been? Bit surprised to find you back here.”
“To be honest Alex, I’m a bit confused as to why you are here? This being my house and everything.”
Alex went quiet.
“I had to escape the war.”
It was done. Father was buried, the will had been read and Charles was now sat in his father’s old study, trying to make sense of the household accounts. Which apparently, according to his lawyers, was the first thing that needed to be attended to, now he was in charge.
It was no use however. Charles was many things, but an accountant he was not and he was being hampered by his father’s arcane calligraphy to boot. He rang for Smythes. After ten minutes he rang again for Smythes. Eventually the door opened and the lurching Butler entered.
“You rang sir?”
“I rang twice Smythes in fact, were you busy?” Charles replied dryly.
“Yes, I was in the attics sir, the boy had to run and get me. My sincere apologies.” Smythes responded, matching his new masters arid tone.
Charles paused for a moment before responding.
“The attics? What were you doing up there? I made no requests for anyone to be in the attics.”
“Absolutely sir. It was one of your Father’s final requests to me. There were some, er loose ends that required tying. I am nearly finished, it will not impact my service to you after today.”
There was no excusing it, Charlie was drunk. Not the happy, I’ve been to a football match and had 5 beers drunk. This was the full, I’ve drunk a bottle of hard spirits on my own on Friday night drunk. Drunk I have nothing better to do with my life than drink drunk. The sort of drinking, doctor’s wake up in cold sweats about, the drunk that Irish poets used to write about in the 18th century, Russia after Yeltsin, chemical vodka drunk.
If Charlie could comprehend anything right now, he’d be more annoyed than anything else. The tax on alcohol was huge, he’d started off steady, but as the booze kicked in, he’d just blindly tapped away on his in house dispenser, he’d get a rude shock when he checked his bank balance tomorrow.
Charlie was this drunk, because he’d been fired. Not for anything he’d done, but for the discoveries his employer had made about his forebears. There was no point arguing, he was, they said:
“A product of his patronage and with patronage like that, he had no position going forward at the agency.”
They had paid him his notice, but Charlie Keaton was now gainfully unemployed.
Daniel was looking at the people he was sharing a room with and trying to work out what it was that made British and American people look so different? He was staring around a room of young to middle aged white people wearing suits. Yet, those that were American, just seemed to somehow emanate an aura, a confidence. Probably, Daniel thought, as he went back to looking at the paper in front of him, derived from the fact that they’d never lost a war, or had an attack on their home country.
“OK Daniel, you’ve had a chance to read the statement now. Will you please accompany me to the interview room.” Said the CIA London station chief.
Daniel nodded and followed the man through to another room, it was just the two of them.
“Take a seat Dan.” the man said.
“It’s Daniel.” Daniel replied
“Huh, oh, yeah right, Daniel.”
Daniel sat, the other man didn’t.
“Sir, I just want to apologise for what I did to your agent, it was a.” Daniel was cut short.
“Don’t worry about that now Dan, I mean, Daniel. We have bigger issues. How well do you know your boss? D’ya trust him?”
“Here’s the thing. I’ve been been visited by the police.” Charles said.
“Oh really? I do hope everything is quite alright?” The agent who was meant to be selling the family pile smiled back at him.
“Oh yes fine, nothing to do with me really, something to do with my father. Thing is, I’ve been thinking about it a bit and I’m at a loss as to why this has happened now?”
Charles had been planning this for a week. He paused and locked eyes with the man across the desk, who was just about intelligent enough to realise that something was happening, but not quite intelligent enough to realise what that was.
“Yes, you see it relates, I’m sure, quite coincidentally, to the story I told you the other week. Now, I am sure that an employee of an illustrious firm such as this one, responsible for looking after the top families in the empire, wouldn’t possibly betray client confidence in a manner such as this?” Charles paused, inwardly smiling at the small bead of perspiration and pained frown on the forehead opposite.
He continued. “Shall we talk about your commission? I feel it is a little high currently.”
“Hello?” Charles’ voice echoed around the empty entrance hall.
No one responded. He was just observed, solemnly, by the bear who had the unfortunate pleasure of being the rug in the hallway. Some great uncle had killed the thing in America and shipped it back as a gift for his father.
“Well that’s a fine welcome for a war hero, a wounded war hero at that!” Charles said to no one in particular, dumping his greatcoat on one of the various chairs that dotted the walls of the hall. He walked through to the sitting room, the furniture was covered in dust sheets, the house shuttered for the duration. Charles plonked himself down on one of the chairs, ignoring the dust sheet and pulled out his pocket watch. It had stopped. He shook it, but it still didn’t respond.
“This bloody war.”
He wound the mechanism and went looking for a clock to set his watch to. He remembered there was an electric clock in the butler’s office downstairs, and had begun to wander in the direction of the servants staircase at the back of the room, when he heard footsteps on the floor above him.
“Oh good, someone’s home.”