Shattered, p.16Dick Francis
Hickory, who could make neat little birds, recovered his good humor by the time Worthington drew up outside in Marigold’s Rolls. Marigold herself, in a dramatic black-and-white-striped caftan, issued from her glossy car with mascara-laden eyelashes batting hugely up and down like a giraffe’s. She had come, she announced, to take me to lunch in the Wychwood Dragon. She had a favor to ask, she said.
Worthington, always a step behind Marigold when on active bodyguard duty, looked the more richly sun-tanned from the skiing trip. He had spent most of the time on the slopes, he said with satisfaction, while Marigold’s wardrobe had swelled by three enormous suitcases. And a good time had clearly been had by both.
Her intense vitality as usual stirred anyone in Marigold’s vicinity to giggles and, as on other days, she and Hickory were soon indulging in batting a sexual ball to each other with gleeful freedom.
Marigold in enjoyment stayed for half an hour—a century for her—during which time Worthington drifted me with a gentle tug on the arm into the furnace end of the room, and told me with the unhappiest of expressions that the underground fraternity of bookmakers were forecasting my destruction, if not death.
“Rose is still actively prowling round here, looking for vengeance, because she can’t understand why you aren’t on your knees to her. They are laughing at her because you and Tom and I have walked away from two of her best-planned smasheroos, and there’s no way she’s going to put up with such a loss of face. So you just look out, because I hear that someone in Broadway has binocs on you now, reporting every twitch you make straight back to Rose.”
“Bins. Where have you been all your life? Binoculars. Race glasses. But seriously, Gerard, Tom Pigeon says it’s no joke.”
I promised to be careful, but who could live forever in a state of alarm? I said, “I suppose I’d better tell you, then, that Adam Force and Rose did try to do me in yesterday. At least, I think so.”
He listened grimly and asked the unanswerable: “Where’s Rose now?”
Marigold and Hickory, having enjoyed their flirting as much because of their twenty-year age difference as in spite of it, gave each other a pecking kiss on the cheek in farewell, and Marigold and I made a head-turning entrance into the Wychwood Dragon dining room. The Dragon herself swept in full sail between the tables to fetch up by Marigold’s side, two splendid ladies eyeing each other for supremacy.
I counted it a draw for outrageous clothes and an easy win for Marigold in the mascara stakes, and nearly two hours slid by before Marigold, tiring of the underlying contest, told me the reason for her invitation to me for lunch.
She declaimed to start with (unnecessarily), “I am Bon-Bon’s mother!”
“Ah,” I said. I knew.
“At Christmas,” Marigold continued, “Martin gave his wife a video camera from the children, and he was going to give her a necklace from himself as well.”
I nodded. “But she preferred warm winter boots.”
“The silly girl has no taste.”
“But she gets cold feet.”
Marigold considered fashion far more important than comfort. “Martin said you had made a spectacular necklace once, and that you could make the same one again. So... for Bon-Bon, will you do it now? As a present from me, of course. And I’d like to see it first.”
She waited an uncharacteristically long time for my answer, gazing hopefully into my face. I didn’t know in fact what to say. I couldn’t insult her by telling her it would cost more than the woolly boots and the video camera combined, though she would need to know, but the videotape describing how to make it and listing the detailed ingredients in grams was not only missing but might have come into Rose’s field of things to die for. When I had said I would make a necklace for Bon-Bon, I hadn’t known Rose.
After too long a pause Marigold asked, “What’s the problem? Can’t you do it?”
When an answer of some sort became essential I said, “Does Bon-Bon give the necklace idea her blessing?”
“She doesn’t know about it. I want her to have a lovely surprise to cheer her up. I thought of buying her something in Paris, but then I remembered what Martin wanted you to do, so will you?”
She was so seldom presented with a negative that she couldn’t understand my hesitation. I put together my most persuasive smile and begged for a little time. She began to pout, and I remembered Martin, laughing, saying that the Marigold pout meant the knives were out.
Hell, I thought, I wished he were alive. He’d been dead twenty-one days and I’d found each one a quandary without him.
I said to Marigold, “The necklace I made is in a strongbox in the bank down the road here. I do agree that you should see it before we go any further.”
The pout cleared away to a broad smile of understanding, and although we could easily have walked the distance, Marigold grandly summoned Worthington, equally grandly paid for our lunch, and outshone the poor Dragon all the way to the Rolls.
In the bank Marigold had the manager bowing to the floor while minions were sent scurrying to bring my locked box into the private room where contents could be checked. I opened the metal box and laid the flat blue velvet folder containing the copy of the Cretan Sunrise onto the bench-shelf, opening it for her opinion.
I hadn’t seen the antique original except lit behind glass, so I couldn’t completely compare them, but in the chill light of the bank’s viewing room the duplicate I’d made gleamed as if with inner life, and I gave way to such a bout of self-regard as would have caused my uncle Ron to bury his head in his hands in shame.
Marigold exclaimed “Oh!” in astonishment, then drew in a breath and said, “Oh, my dear,” and couldn’t decide whether or not she liked it.
The necklace designed three thousand five hundred years ago was a matter of twenty flat pieces, each made of aquamarine-colored and dark blue glass streaked together with melted gold. About two inches, or five centimeters, long, by a thumbnail wide, each flat shining piece bore the imprint of a flower. When worn, the long pieces, strung loosely together around the neck by their short sides, spread out in rays like a sunrise, the imprinted flowers, outermost, lying flat on the skin. In a way barbaric, the whole thing was antiquely magnificent, and definitely heavy. I didn’t blame delicate Bon-Bon for not wanting to wear it.
Marigold, regaining her breath, asked if Martin had seen it.
“Yes.” I nodded. “He thought it would suit Bon-Bon, but she wanted the boots more.” I’d lent the necklace to him without conditions, and he’d shown it around in the jockeys’ changing room. Dozens of people had seen it.
Marigold, incredibly brought again to speechlessness, said nothing at all while I reenclosed the necklace into darkness and put the velvet folder back in the metal strongbox. There were the other papers there that I checked yet again—will, insurance policy, deeds of the hill house, all the conventional paper trail of living, but of an instructional videotape, still not a sign.
I searched carefully once more through the pile of envelopes.
There was no tape. Nothing. I reflected with irony that even if one followed the instruction tape, it wouldn’t be enormously easy to fabricate. I kept it partly because of the difficult hours it had cost me.
The bank minions relocked everything and gave me back my key, and Marigold grandly commanded Worthington to drive us all back to Logan Glass. Apart from her instruction to her chauffeur she remained exceptionally quiet on the very short journey, and also, as I’d noticed in the Wychwood dining room, her gin intake had dropped to scraping zero.
Back at Logan Glass she paraded up and down the brightly lit gallery as if she’d never been in there before, and halted finally in front of Catherine’s wings before addressing all of us, Worthington, Irish, Hickory, Pamela Jane and myself, as if we’d been a junior class in prep school. She said we were lucky to be in a studio that stood so high already in the world’s estimation. She was going to give us all a huge jump forward in reputation be
Whatever we thought, we gazed silently in awe.
“Well, Gerard?” she demanded. “What do you say?”
I didn’t say, “Over the top. In fact, out of sight,” but I thought it.
“You see,” Marigold went on triumphantly, “everyone benefits. People will flock to your door, here.”
Apart from terrible trouble with insurance, the one dire probability ahead in her scheme was that someone somewhere would try to exchange the modern for the antique, with Marigold embroiled in legal pincers.
“I think it’s a beautiful idea,” Pamela Jane told Marigold, and the others, smiling, agreed. Even Worthington raised no security alarms.
Marigold, delighted with the scheme she had thought up within ten minutes, filled in the details rapidly. She would consult the Cheltenham Race Trophy Committee immediately... Gerard could start work at once... the press should be alerted ...
I hardly listened to those plans. Almost anything would be a better trophy than a copy of a jewel worth a million. The obituary for Martin that I hadn’t yet fashioned would be more suitable. Glass trophies were common in racing and I would be elated in general to be commissioned to make one.
Irish with enthusiasm clasped Marigold’s hand and shook it vigorously, to the lady’s surprise. Hickory beamed. The trophy necklace idea swept the polls at Logan Glass, but the Cheltenham committee might not like it.
The Cheltenham committee were given little time more to remain unconsulted. Marigold used my telephone to get through to an influential high-up whom she galvanized into visiting Logan Glass at once.
An hour later, Marigold, irresistible to many a powerful man, greeted the man from Cheltenham, Kenneth Trubshaw, with a familiar kiss and explained her intention even before introducing Irish, Hickory and Pamela Jane.
I got a nod from the smoothly urbane member of the racecourse’s upper echelon. He knew me by sight, but we hadn’t until then talked. Marigold with arms raised put that right.
“Darling, you know Gerard Logan, of course?”
“Er ... Yes, of course.”
“And it’s Gerard who’s made the fabulous necklace which you must see, which is down in the bank here....”
Everyone looked at a watch, or the clock on the showroom wall. The bank had closed its doors five minutes earlier and Marigold looked frustrated. Time had ticked away too quickly.
I suggested diffidently that Mr. Trubshaw, not to have wasted entirely his short journey, might care to see a few other things I’d made and although Marigold protested, “Darling, there’s more gold in the necklace and it’s going to be a Gold Trophy race....”
Kenneth Trubshaw, though perhaps more courteous than interested, took the first few brisk uncommitted steps into the gallery. Then, to my great relief, he paused, and stopped, and went back a pace, and finished thoughtfully in front of Catherine’s wings.
“How much is this one?” he asked. “There’s no price on it.”
“It’s sold,” I said.
My assistants all showed astonishment.
“Pity,” commented Trubshaw.
“There isn’t enough gold,” Marigold complained.
“Um,” I said. “I did a horse jumping a fence, once. The fence was solid gold; so were the horse’s hooves. The rest of the horse was crystal, and the ground, the base of the piece, was black glass, with tiny gold flecks.”
“Where is it now?” Kenneth asked.
“What about the necklace?” Marigold demanded, cross.
Her Kenneth appeased her gently. “I’ll come over and see it tomorrow, but this young man has more than a necklace to show us. These wings, for instance ...” He stood in front of them, his head on one side. He asked me, “Couldn’t you make that again? If this one’s sold?”
“Part of what I sell is a guarantee of one-of-a-kind,” I apologized. I wasn’t sure I could, even if I wanted to, repeat the wings. The climbing powerful splendor of their construction had come from the subconscious. I hadn’t even written up my notes.
Could I instead, then, he asked, make a tribute to Martin Stukely?
I said, “I could make a leaping horse with golden streaks. I could make it worthy of Cheltenham.”
“I’ll come tomorrow,” the trophy chairman said and embraced Marigold in farewell with smiling enthusiasm.
Marigold having agreed earlier with her daughter to take me back to Bon-Bon’s house, she, Worthington and I made tracks to the Stukely gravel, arriving at the same moment as Priam Jones, who was carefully nursing the expensive tires he’d bought to replace those wrecked on New Year’s Eve. Priam, Bon-Bon had reported, had after all decided not to sue the town for erecting sharp-toothed barriers overnight, but had already transferred his disgust to Lloyd Baxter, who’d ordered his horses, including Tallahassee, to be sent north to a training stable nearer his home.
Bon-Bon came out of the house in a welcoming mood, and I had no trouble, thanks to her maneuvering it privately on my behalf, in talking to Priam Jones as if our meeting were accidental. Priam looked like the last of the cul-de-sacs.
“Bon-Bon invited me to an early supper,” Priam announced with a touch of pomposity.
“How splendid!” I said warmly. “Me too.”
Priam’s face said he didn’t care to have me there too, and things weren’t improved from his point of view when Bon-Bon swept her mother into the house on a wardrobe expedition and said over her departing shoulder, “Gerard, pour Priam a drink, will you? I think there’s everything in the cupboard.”
Bon-Bon’s grief for Martin had settled in her like an anchor steadying a ship. She was more in charge of the children and had begun to cope more easily with managing her house. I’d asked her whether she could face inviting Priam to dinner, but I hadn’t expected the skill with which she’d delivered him to me in secondary-guest capacity.
The children poured out of the house at that moment, addressing me unusually as “Uncle Gerard” and Priam as
“Sir.” They then bunched around Worthington and carried him off to play “make believe” in the garage block. Priam and I, left alone, made our way, with me leading him through the house, to Martin’s den, where I acted as instructed as host and persuaded Priam with my very best flattery to tell me how his other horses had prospered, as I’d seen one of his winners praised in the newspapers.
Priam, with his old boastfulness reemerging, explained how no one else but he could have brought those runners out at the right moment. No one, he claimed, knew more about readying a horse for a particular race than he did.
He smoothed the thin white hair that covered his scalp but showed pink skin beneath and conceded that Martin had contributed a little now and then to his training success.
Priam at my invitation relaxed on the sofa and sipped weak scotch and water while I sat in Martin’s chair and fiddled with small objects on his desk. I remembered Priam’s spontaneous tears at Cheltenham and not for the first time wondered if on a deeper level Priam was less sure of himself than he acted. There were truths he might tell if I got down to that tear-duct level, and this time I’d meet no garden hose on the way.
“How well,” I asked conversationally, “do you know Eddie Payne, Martin’s old valet?”
Surprised, Priam answered, “I don’t know him intimately, if that’s what you mean, but some days I give him the silks the jockeys will be wearing, so yes, I talk to Eddie then.”
“And Rose?” I suggested.
“Eddie Payne’s daughter. Do you know her?”
“Whyever do you ask?
I said with gratitude, “You were so kind, Priam, on that wretched day of Martin’s death, to take back to Broadway that tape I so stupidly left in my raincoat pocket in Martin’s car. I haven’t thanked you properly again since then.” I paused and then added as if one thought had nothing to do with the other, “I’ve heard a crazy rumor that you swapped two tapes. That you took the one from my pocket and left another.”
“I agree.” I smiled and nodded. “I’m sure you took back to my place in Broadway the tape I’d been given at Cheltenham.”
“Well, then.” He sounded relieved. “Why mention it?”
“Because of course in Martin’s den, in this very room, in fact, you found tapes all over the place. Out of curiosity you may have slotted the tape I had left in the car into Martin’s VCR and had a look at it, and maybe you found it so boring and unintelligible that you wound it back, stuck the parcel shut again, and took it back to me at Broadway.”
“You’re just guessing,” Priam complained.
“Oh, sure. Do I guess right?”
Priam didn’t want to admit to his curiosity. I pointed out that it was to his advantage if it were known for a certainty what tape had vanished from Logan Glass.
He took my word for it and looked smug, but I upset him again profoundly by asking him who that evening, or early next morning, he had assured that the tape he’d delivered to Broadway had nothing to do with an antique necklace, whether worth a million or not.
Priam’s face stiffened. It was definitely a question he didn’t want to answer.
I said without pressure, “Was it Rose Payne?”
He simply stared, not ready to loosen his long-tight tongue.
“If you say who,” I went on in the same undemanding tone, “we can smother the rumors about you swapping any tapes.”
“There’s never any harm in speaking the truth,” Priam protested, but of course he was wrong, the truth could be disbelieved, and the truth could hurt.
Shattered by Dick Francis / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes