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The yellow scarf, p.1
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       The Yellow Scarf, p.1

           Barrymore Tebbs
 
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The Yellow Scarf


  The Yellow Scarf

  © 2013 Barrymore Tebbs. All rights reserved.

  This is a free eBook. Share it with your friends as often as you’d like. However, this book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Cover graphic: Barrymore Tebbs

  1.

  The house waited.

  The rains were heavy that spring. The grounds around Hampton Close were sodden, the canopy of trees so lush and full that swollen limbs prohibited any hope of sunlight from ever reaching the floor of the forest primeval. To walk the wood surrounding Hampton Close was a hazard to the traveler. The flora had rotted into a cesspool of rank detritus leaving the ground a morass of wet leaves and rotten undergrowth. Beneath, benighted creatures roiled and squirmed, thriving on the sustenance of warm decay which enfolded them in its womb.

  With the coming of summer, and the heat, the house became a breeding ground for that which thrives in darkness. Not tangible organisms with defined shape and form and measurable weight, but those things which grow just across the border of consciousness in that twilight area accessible only through dreams and precognition, creativity and madness. The house was alone with itself and in its loneliness it turned within and beheld its own living darkness.

  The house smiled.

  2.

  “It seems I am an heir,” Peter said to Barnard.

  “You’re already an heir,” said Barnard.

  “Right. But this time it comes with a house and no money.”

  “What would you do with more money?”

  “The question is what will I do with another house? There’s the one in Highgate, the one in Mayfair, the flat in Bloomsbury—”

  “Don’t rub it in.”

  “I’m not. The last thing I expected was for a solicitor to ring me up and say, ‘Hallo, your Great Uncle Basil has died and left you a fab old house in the country.’”

  “You had a Great Uncle Basil?” asked Barnard.

  “Doesn’t everyone?”

  They were seated in a dark corner of the Cromwellian, fragile stems of martini glasses dangling between their fingers. The music was loud, the lights just this side of psychedelic, and the women – barely tucked into their Bunny costumes – were beautiful and able to arouse a man’s libido without so much as looking at him. But look they did and the more they looked the bigger the tip.

  “I’ll tell you what to do with the house. Convert it into a recording studio and we’ll start a new label. Better still, share the wealth. Let your friends move into the new inheritance, rent free, every last one of us.”

  “It’s bad enough already. People come and go quickly as it is. Half the time I don’t even recognize the faces I wake up to in the morning.”

  “We all have that problem.”

  “If it weren’t for my accountant I wouldn’t know where my money goes half the time.”

  “Insane with jealousy,” said Barnard, but his white teeth gleamed brightly in the dark corner of the lounge. “But in all honesty, I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it weren’t for your money.”

  “My money and my tie,” said Peter. And it was true. Barnard Davies could barely afford a haircut, let alone a proper suit required to gain entrance to the Playboy Club. The Club was willing to overlook a four inch Afro. After all, this was the era of Black Power, and no self respecting establishment was willing to be dragged through the courts just so they could cling tenaciously to tradition. Barnard’s suit, however, had come from a stall in King’s Row. It was purple and it was velvet, but it fit in all the right places, and with one of Peter’s slim black ties his appearance was at least acceptable, if not a bit garish. Peter Trewick may have played the part of junior banking partner to perfection, but friends knew it was only an illusion. Half the time he was as high as the rest of them, which was part of his charm. Skipping across Piccadilly in his bowler hat, umbrella a-twirl, no one would suspect the man was stoned out of his mind. And when the bank card was presented, the possibilities were endless. Barnard couldn’t fool anyone into believing he made any form of contribution to society, yet it was somehow acceptable, even encouraged, when he announced his occupation as writer. Of course he didn’t make any money at it. He still toiled away at the mammoth manuscript that would one day become his first novel. But there had been stories published in a number of magazines, and Heinlein himself had written words of encouragement that were worth almost as much as a contract with Pan.

  “Besides, I doubt that Hampton Close is altogether habitable.”

  “Why, what’s wrong with it?”

  “I couldn’t say. Basil was well into his eighties, but he must have been a ripe old dodger to outlive all his nieces and nephews.”

  “No children of his own?”

  “None that he knew of,” said Peter.

  Barnard grinned. “I like this fellow already. So what’s wrong with the house?”

  “I was there once or twice when I was a boy. All I remember is that it was large, and more than a wee bit scary. Uncle Basil had been living there by himself for who knows how long, and you know how old people get. The place is probably a right mess, broken windows; bad plumbing; hell the roof could have caved in and he might not have known it.”

  “And it probably reeks of cat. Old people always have cats.”

  “If he did they’re surely dead by now. Basil died more than six months ago.”

  “Is it haunted?”

  Peter guffawed. “You and your writer’s imagination. I wouldn’t know really, but I can tell you this: Uncle Basil was into some weird stuff.”

  “Don’t tell me he worshipped Satan.”

  “Something like it.”

  “Bloody hell, Peter,” said Barnard. “Either you worship Satan or you don’t.”

  “What I mean is, I don’t know for sure. Mum was never all that fond of him, even if he was fond of her.”

  “Of course he was. Those old goats always have a thing for the kiddies, don’t they?”

  Peter shrugged. “All I’m saying is that Mum treated him like the proverbial family skeleton. She didn’t talk about him all that much, but I remember a story she told that there was some nasty business back in the twenties when Crowley and his group were having the run of the London spiritualist crowd. Drugs, pornography, rituals…I can’t remember all the details, but there were the usual arrests. The coven disbanded, Crowley fled the country, and Uncle Basil wound up living abroad in self-imposed exile for a number of years.”

  “You’re talking about Aleister Crowley? Man, that cat was into some heavy shit.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  “So Uncle Basil was into devil worship.” Barnard pulled an olive off the stem with his teeth.

  Peter’s jaw twisted uncomfortably.

  “You know what I think we should do, Peter? I think we should motor up to – where the hell is this place?”

  “It’s in Essex.”

  “Perfect. We’ll motor up this weekend, have a look at the place, spend the night and see what sort of spirits we can invoke, and make it back to London Sunday afternoon. Bree will want to come of course.”

  “And if Bree comes, Tristan will come.”

  “The more the merrier.”

  “There’s only one problem,” Peter said. “The Stones are playing in Hyde Park tomorrow. You don’t want to miss it, do you?”

  “Not on your life. But the show is in the afternoon. We’ll have plenty of time to make it out there by nightfall. We’ll get some takeaway, take some blankets and pillows—”

  “You’ve got it all mapped out, haven’t you, Barnard?”

  “Have you got
anything better to do? See? You don’t.”

  “I was thinking about dropping acid at the gig.”

  “Everyone’s going to be dropping acid at the gig. Next argument?”

  “I don’t know if I’ll feel like driving afterward.”

  Barnard paid him no heed. “Can you dig it? The four of us stoned on acid out there at Uncle Basil’s place – man, an honest-to-God Satan worshipper—”

  “—I never said that.”

  “You didn’t have to. Who knows what we’ll find?”

  “I don’t know, Barnard.”

  “If it’s driving you’re worried about, I’ll drive.” Peter drove a silver 1967 Jaguar XKE, and there was no way in hell he’d let Barnard, or anyone on psychedelics – other than himself – drive it, for that matter.

  “I’ll drive,” said Peter.

  “It’s settled then? We’re going?”

  Peter sighed. “We’re going.”

  “Far out.” Barnard snapped his fingers for one of the cocktail girls. The Bunny made a beeline, fluffy white ears and tail bristling as she came. “Tell Bree I need to speak with her, can you do that for me, baby?” He slipped a half crown into her palm.

  The Bunny rolled her eyes. “Can I get you anything else, big boy?” She turned to Peter. “What about you?”

  “I think not,” said Peter. “Looks like we’re in for a long weekend. I’d better get home to catch some winks.”

  Barnard watched the Bunny’s tail as she scampered off into the swirl of cigarette smoke bathed in an array of ever shifting colors. By the time Barnard had polished off his martini, Bree had emerged from the psychedelic swirl.

  “You know I’m not allowed to fraternize with boyfriends while I’m on the job. You don’t want me to get in trouble, do you?”

  Barnard ignored her. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

  “Seeing the Stones, of course!” She was as excited as they were, if not more. All the girls loved Mick, and Bree was no exception.

  “After?”

  “Working.”

  “Get out of it. We have a haunted house to go to.”

  3.

  Peter left the club wondering why he’d let Barnard talk him into making the trip. It wasn’t the journey itself or the effects of acid that made him uneasy. Barnard, as usual, was making a joke of it. Sure, everyone was into witchcraft and the occult these days along with everything else that purported to expand the doors of perception, but from what he understood about Basil Townsend, the man was the real deal. He came from a long line of occultists who took their practices seriously, and as Barnard had said, who knew what they would find? Maybe nothing but rotten floorboards and tables piled with dusty old books. What worried Peter was that that might not be all they would find.

  But a moment later he had changed his mind. Peter knew he was being overly cautious. It was part of his conservative nature, and in spite of free love and experimental lifestyles, he was conservative after all, but doing his best to overcome.

  Viewing it from the other side, the trip to Hampton Close could be just another wild adventure, and maybe the perfect top to a perfect weekend. Barnard and Bree would make the best of it, shagging in every last nook and cranny they could find, while Peter would be stuck with Tristan and doing his best to dodge his advances. He didn’t mind that Tristan was queer; he just didn’t like Tristan’s philosophy that everyone was bisexual by nature and it only took the right opportunity to unleash hidden desires. If Peter had hidden desires, he wasn’t sure he wanted them unleashed, at least not while Tristan was around. When he got home he would check his black book and see if there were any chicks he could ring up who might be up for a bit of fun. If worse came to worst he could surely meet someone at the concert.

  The Jag slid to the curb outside his flat on Crescent Walk. He doubted it would rain tonight, but force of habit dictated he put the roof up. He had just finished securing it into place and had turned around to head up the steps to the building when he saw the girl. He hadn’t noticed her before. She nearly blended into the shadows, but the glow of the streetlamp caressed her ice blond hair, and even though her head was bent and he could not see her face, he knew straight away who she was.

  “Pandora,” he said, standing on the bottom step. Peter hadn’t seen her in what – six months? A year? The ratty fur coat was too warm for this weather, but he couldn’t be certain if the mascara stained cheeks were due to the heat or to tears. Perhaps a bit of both. She tossed the cigarette she had been smoking and stood up, throwing her arms around his neck.

  “I was released from the clinic today. I haven’t anywhere else to go.”

  He allowed the embrace for a moment, then removed her arms and said, “Come inside.” He picked the pathetic bag of clothes up and unlocked the door to the flat.

  The light from the naked light bulb in the foyer was not kind to her. It was hard to believe Pandora was no more than twenty-two years old, and only two years before had been hailed on the cover of Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Now the only photographer who would turn his camera on her would be the paparazzi who thrived on exploiting the personal suffering of others.

  They trudged up the three flights to his flat and he let her go in ahead of him. Inside, the lighting was subdued, for which they would both be grateful.

  “Have you eaten?”

  “Not since lunch.”

  “I’ll make you a sandwich.”

  “Don’t bother on my account,” she said, but she knew her way to the kitchen and tugged open the refrigerator door. “Mind if I help myself?”

  Peter went about his business, shedding his jacket and losing his tie while Pandora rummaged in the refrigerator. He was always shoving leftover takeaway inside so she should find something worth eating after sniffing a few cartons.

  He sat on the sofa in his vest and silk pajama trousers while she curled up in the big overstuffed chair – his telley chair – gobbling some apparently still-fresh Chinese out of a paper box. He’d switched on the radio, low so they could talk if she wanted to, and he recognized the Byrd’s performing Eight Miles High.

  The room was a snug fit, warm and comforting, like being wrapped in a favorite childhood blanket. His houses were more spacious and more elegantly appointed, with a cook at each, and a housekeeper, but the Crescent Walk flat was Peter’s favorite. He enjoyed the solitude, even if he did have to do things for himself here that he didn’t have to do at Highgate or Mayfair. Not that he minded loading dishes in the washer. He enjoyed getting his hands dirty every now and again. It’s just that he’d been brought up to rely on other people to do things for him. He attributed his willingness to let down his hair and try to live the way normal people do to the friends he’d surrounded himself with during the past several years. It gave him a sense of freedom he’d never known as a boy and young man.

  They sat in silence as Pandora ate. She was skinny as a rail. He’d thought that six months in a rehabilitation clinic on strict regimes might have helped put the weight back on, but in all honesty she didn’t look that much different than the last time he’d seen her.

  “We’re going to see the Stones in Hyde Park tomorrow,” he said by way of instigating a conversation. “It’s free.”

  “Really?”

  “Brian Jones is dead.”

  The connection between the two events didn’t seem to hold much significance for her. “Can I come along?”

  “It’s free.”

  “Do you want me to go?”

  Christ, she wasn’t going to start this already was she? Whatever had once been between them was over a long time ago, even before her face was pasted between advertisements for Players and Wrigleys on twenty foot high billboards overlooking Piccadilly Circus. He wasn’t sorry now, even if he had been at the time. What red blooded Englishman didn’t want to be seen escorting one of the world’s most beautiful models? But fame, and other things, had gone to her head far too quickly, and as they all learned soon enough
, fame in this day and age was fleeting. One false turn and you’re on the bottom of the slag heap. They might remember your face but no one remembers your name and they couldn’t be arsed to offer you a hand up out of the rubbish.

  “Of course. It will be great fun. Barnard will be there—”

  “How is Barnard? I miss the old boy. Has he finished that novel yet?”

  Peter laughed.

  “Have you read any of it?”

  “The novel? No. I read a story that was in a magazine. Dreadful stuff, ray guns and birds in silver mini skirts with tits out to here; he actually got paid for it.”

  “Bree and him still together?”

  “Yes, yes, of course. With Tristan in tow as usual.”

  “Following Bree around like a lovesick puppy. I don’t think he’s really gay after all, do you, the way he moons around after girls like Bree?”

  “Maybe it’s not Bree he’s after,” suggested Peter. That evoked a smile from Pandora. “They’ll be there tomorrow, too, Bree and Tristan.”

  “Just like old times.”

  God, I hope not. “There’ll surely be lots of drugs there tomorrow.”

  Pandora threw him a look. “I’m six months clean, Peter. I’m on the sixth step.”

  “Which is?”

  “I have humbly asked God to remove all the defects of my character.”

  Peter stifled a cough. He wasn’t ready for that one. “You believe in God?”

  “Well, not God. Not really. We call it our Higher Power.”

  Now he was confused. “How does that work?”

  “We believe that only a power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”

  Just keep telling yourself that, Peter thought. “Oh, Jolly Good. So you’re on the mend, then?”

  “I’m clean, Peter.”

  “Yes, I see. Well then, any idea what to do next?”

  “I thought I’d ring up Victor, go round to the Beeb, see if he has any bits for me. What do you think?”

  Victor Fitzsimmons was the television producer who had “discovered” Pandora as a sixteen-year-old ingénue, giving her a major part on the disastrous but mercifully short-lived The Prince of Paupers. Pandora couldn’t act. She didn’t need to. The show only did as well in the ratings as it had because teenaged boys all over Britain tuned in weekly to ogle Pandora. But teenaged boys weren’t buying the advertiser’s product and the scripts and performances were uniformly terrible. The program went off the air after only a few months just as Pandora’s career as a model began to take off. If she thought she would be able to revive a career in acting looking the way she did now, she was sadly mistaken.

  “I think that’s a fantastic idea. Victor’s always got new tricks up his sleeve, and even if he doesn’t have anything now he’ll be able to get you an intro to someone who does.” Peter wasn’t certain that the fact that Pandora and Victor had also been lovers, however briefly, would help or hinder her intended reintroduction into television. If he had to pick, his guess was that Victor’s reaction to Pandora’s appearance would be like his own. He wouldn’t shag Pandora if his life depended on it. The only blokes who would were other junkies and chaps with some twisted concentration camp fetish.

  “Right. Well, there’s a whole queue of bands tomorrow. It’s going to be a long day and I’ve had a long one already so I’ll just get you a sheet.”

  He got up from the couch where she would sleep – for God’s sake he was not about to invite her into his bed tonight – and then as if from far away he heard the words come out of his mouth and was powerless to stop them, “And afterwards we’re all going to take a jaunt up the road to visit a house I’ve just inherited.”

  When he came back Pandora was already asleep. He tucked the sheet up around her and turned out the light.

  4.

  They ate lunch on the lawn by the Serpentine, the five of them, and Peter was glad to see each of them so happy. Barnard handed out purple tabs of acid with all the solemnity of a priest presenting the Eucharist. Peter watched with a wary eye, but Pandora was in her own world and showed little interest in what the others were doing, even when the first joint was lit and passed among the other four. A full belly and a good night’s sleep had done her good and when she stretched out on the grass, her face turned toward the sun, Peter could see something of her former beauty struggling to break the surface.

  Barnard had traded in his purple velvet suit for a purple African tunic with a strand of shells encircling his neck and a pair of large black sunglasses. Naked children dove into the Serpentine, scattering ducklings along the shore. Bree watched with a blissful smile on her face and then took a quick romp through the water herself. Her gauze white dress became glued to every voluptuous curve, her ripe nipples displayed proudly for all to see.

  Someone had painted white butterfly wings around Tristan’s eyes and when the band unleashed thousands of white butterflies, he shrieked in ecstasy, spinning madly like a dervish until he was swallowed up by the mass of cavorting bodies that seemed to constantly press itself closer and closer to the stage.

  Everywhere Peter looked, people had turned on in a dazzling array of glistening skin and streaks of kaleidoscopic colors. As usual, he had overdressed in one of his stifling black suits, but as the afternoon sun beat down and the crowd sweated in unison, clothes along with inhibitions were shed.

  Later, he might wonder what had become of most of his wardrobe but hope it had found a good home. He wandered barefoot through the crowd, his starched white shirt unbuttoned and hanging from his shoulders, the sun warm against his pasty skin.

  A blond hippie chick peeled her bright yellow dress off in front of Peter and scampered topless through the crowd.

  A trio of fairy girls joined hands and danced in a circle around him. One of them crowned him with a chain of daisies and bestowed a kiss on his lips before turning to kiss her friend – the tease – but Peter could only smile and extend his hand, feeling their beautiful vibes radiating into his fingertips. Just as quickly as they had appeared they scampered away, silver trails like fairy dust sparkling in their wake.

  A man in a magician’s hat and what was left of a tuxedo handed Peter a joint and then vanished into the ether. Peter puffed and felt his lungs expand with the power of the universe. A group of leather jacketed bikers improvised a dance – their rhythm snaked and curled like a writhing serpent slithering among the jams radiating from the band onstage. He felt his own serpent uncoil at the base of his spine and worm its way upward through his body until it exploded from the crown of his head, a shower of magic cascading around him.

  Peter turned. An African witch doctor with mystic designs painted in white on his black skin shook his totem at Peter, white teeth grinning, white eyes mad and as full of the Devil as the guttural growls which poured from the massive speakers on the stage.

  “Tell me baby, what’s my name?” Jagger’s voice rising in a high pitched wail. “Tell me sweetie, what’s my game?” arcing higher and higher.

  The churning rhythms from the stage held the crowd mesmerized. What magic was this, white or black, that these conjurers had invoked?

  For a fleeting moment he wondered where Pandora was. He hadn’t seen her since the Stones had stormed the stage. But just as quickly, the thought was gone. Pandora would be all right. Nothing bad could happen today.

  Peter stepped over bodies in sleeping bags, sometimes two inside of one, intertwined and moving in a beautiful slow motion pulse – the smell of pot smoke heavy on the slow moving summer breeze

  A baby faced constable on his motorbike stopped to observe the scene, barely old enough to shave, head bobbing in time with the music. Everybody must get stoned, Peter thought, even the bobbies. There would be no riots today, no demonstrations.

  5.

  Peter glanced at Pandora as the Jag zipped along the A12. He’d been worried about her for a moment when she disappeared during the concert. Now she showed no signs of being stoned, although in his conditio
n he wasn’t the best judge of that. Her long blond hair was tied down with a pink and lavender polka dotted scarf and with her sunglasses on she lay with her head against the back of the seat, face upturned toward the sun. Pandora had always had flawless skin, and she would be tan by this time tomorrow. Peter on the other hand should have lathered on the lotion. He was already running the risk of a sunburned forehead. With the top down and the wind roaring around the windscreen, there was little use for conversation. The two of them rode in blissful comfort with each other.

  Every few miles, Peter would ease his foot off the accelerator and watch in the rearview mirror for Bree’s Corsina to come into view. He played a teasing game with his friends, allowing them to almost catch up with the Jag for a moment, then he would shoot ahead again, eliciting laughter from Pandora.

  He had written the directions down for Barnard, and until they made it to Highwoods on the other side of Colchester, the trip was a straight shot. After that, Peter slowed his driving so the other car could keep him in sight. He had a map to Hampton Close, and as the farmlands were swallowed up by dense woods the roads became less civil, and the light began to fade from the sky.

  As they reached the final turn off, the color of the sky which had been a clear, ice blue for the past several hours began to deepen, shot through with streaks of red and gold. Peter brought the Jaguar to an idling halt just outside of the gate to Hampton Close and found the large key on the ring given to him by the solicitor. The gate was flanked by two high stone pillars, stained green with lichen and moss and strangled by wild vines clawing their way upwards from the earth.

  “Give me a hand, then,” he called. Barnard got out of the Corsina to help. The chains wound through the spikes of the gate were heavy, and it took the two of them a bit of effort to undo them. Peter was surprised by the amount of exertion it took to open the gates, and once they had made a space wide enough to get the cars through, he saw no need to shut them again before leaving tomorrow. This far out in the country, who would want to trespass onto a derelict estate such as this who didn’t already know another way in?

  The road leading to the house was a winding, packed earth path overgrown with weeds. Branches hanging low from the surrounding trees threatened to swallow the drive. Uncle Basil might have been ill for some time, and even before then he was probably too old to properly care for the land or to consider hiring someone to tend it for him. The wood was so thick Peter had to switch on the driving lamps. Without warning, the wild hedgerows parted and the house was in front of them. The sky was a deep blue behind it, swiftly dissolving to black, and the windows along the upper story of the house which faced the west burned with the crimson reflection of the setting sun.

  All else was in shadow.

  Peter stood beside the open door of the Jaguar, gazing up at the house. One by one the others came to stand by his side. If they had arrived ten minutes later, the place would have been black as pitch. A strobe of light flashed against the house, followed by a squawk and flapping of wings. A bird must have been roosting somewhere in the upper reaches of the front of the house.

  “Jesus, Tristan,” said Bree.

  “What?”

  “That frightened me half to death.”

  Peter said, “I don’t suppose anyone thought to bring a torch.”

  Peter had thought of everything he could. The back of the Jaguar was piled with pillows and sheets and towels, a basket with food and a few bottles of wine, Cokes in cool box, plastic cups and paper plates… and a can opener. But he hadn’t brought a torch.

  “I think there’s one in the boot,” said Bree, and Barnard went round to get it. Peter stared up at the peaked black roof. Something flitted about in the air though it was too dim too see. The wood hummed with insects. A current surged through him, like the crackling over a poor phone connection. He wondered if the others felt it, too. Perhaps it was only the lingering effects of the acid. Perhaps.

  “You did say the place is haunted?” said Tristan, but Peter couldn’t tell if the statement was hopeful or cautious.

  “It’s not haunted,” Bree insisted. Did Peter detect a trace of fear in her voice?

  The great oak door was flooded with the beam from Barnard’s torch and Peter stepped forward, fitting the key into the lock.

  “If we don’t run into at least one ghost,” said Barnard, “I’m going to recommend you ask for your money back. What about you, Pandora?”

  “All I care about is indoor plumbing. I have to pee, and I don’t want to have to squat out in the woods. With my luck a badger will sneak up and bite me on the bum.”

  Tristan and Bree concurred with Pandora. Peter felt the tumbler turn over inside the lock. He pushed the door and then threw his shoulder into it. The door opened with a sigh.

  Hampton Close welcomed them.

  The torch beam swept around the room, revealing a large foyer with a long refectory table over which hung a chandelier with what looked like actual light bulbs. Barnard spun the beam around and found a light switch beside the door. When the foyer was bathed in a warm ochre glow, there was a collective sigh of relief from the group.

  “Thank God,” said Bree.

  At the other end of the hall were twin staircases, one on each side of the room, leading to the upper story of the house. A balustrade stood in front of a large window. By day, it must have shed great quantities of light into the house, but with the coming of nightfall they would have to make do with the electric lights. With luck, there would be plenty of candles about.

  Tristan raced boldly up one flight of stairs and then leaned against the balustrade, gazing down on the group below. “Fantastic!” he exclaimed and then disappeared through a doorway into the house.

  “Come on,” Pandora said to Bree, ‘let’s see if we can find the lav.” She held her hand out to Barnard for the torch.

  “It’s in the back next to the kitchen,” Peter said.

  “How do you know that?”

  “He’s been here before,” said Barnard, “right Peter?”

  “Not since I was small, but that’s one thing I do seem to remember.”

  “I think I need to come along to protect you,” Barnard said but the girls weren’t having any of it.

  “Sorry, girls only,” said Bree.

  “I get it,” said Barnard and watched the girls disappear through a doorway underneath the landing. He turned to Peter and said “It’s hot in here. Didn’t Uncle Basil believe in fans?”

  Peter shrugged. “He probably meant to preserve the old world charm of the place.”

  Barnard lifted his arms and jiggled his shirt beneath his armpits to keep from sticking. “In that he succeeded. This place is the dog’s bollocks.”

  Peter and Barnard gazed gape-mouthed about themselves. The walls were hung with heavy tapestries and paintings, one of them of a middle aged man in a black suit and bowler hat posing with his elbow on a Grecian style column. A pair of cold, narrow eyes gazed down upon the viewer from beneath thickly furred brows. “This must be Uncle Basil. You look just like him, Peter.”

  Peter studied the painting. “Do I really look that bad? Maybe it’s time for me to stop dressing like that altogether.”

  Peter felt inside the doorway to the first room leading off of the foyer, moving his hand along the wall until his fingers touched the light switch. An overhead chandelier gave off little illumination. There was a loud fizzle, and a pop, and one of the bulbs went out.

  The meager light from the remaining bulbs revealed a drawing room stuffed with couches and chairs of all shapes and sizes surrounding an old stone fireplace. The room was not unlike the living room in Peter’s Crescent Walk flat: dark, comfortable.

  “These antiques must be worth a fortune.” A table beside the door was thick with dust. He wiped his fingers across the surface and they came away tainted the color of ash. “It’s like no one has set foot in here for years.”

  “How old did you say Uncle Basil was?”

  Pet
er shrugged. “In his eighties, I think.”

  “He died here, or in a home?”

  Peter wondered what it would be like to live in isolation in a place like this, old and feeble with no longer any ability, or desire, to care for one’s self. Surely Basil had died in a home. The thought of someone coming to check on the old man and be greeted by first the stench of death and then by the putrid mess of a decaying corpse filled Peter with revulsion. As it was, there was a fecund odor about the place, like something wet and fertile.

  “He died in a home,” Peter said, as if by saying the words he could make it so.

  The furniture in the room may have been antiques, but compared to the things at his other houses, nothing here would fetch more than a few pounds at a jumble sale. The fabric on the chairs was threadbare and worn, the colors dulled by years of dirt and grime that could probably never be cleaned. He couldn’t resist touching, and when he did, the rotten material disintegrated. With a distasteful scowl, he turned toward the window at the front of the room. He found the cord and opened the drapes, revealing nothing more than the dense forest surrounding the house. Outside it was dark and as thick as a jungle.
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