After the War, everything changed.
If we learned anything, it was that life is precious and fleeting; and there isn’t a moment to lose.
I was only a little girl but I remember being told that many of the young men from our town would not be coming home. I remember the tears when my three older cousins were killed.
But that was then and this is now.
My parents think I’m just a little bit scandalous; at least my father does.
I think my mother secretly approves.
I live my life by my rules.
I make my own money.
I drive my own car.
The car is packed and my faithful companion Rufus is by my side; we are heading to the country house of Sir William McInnes.
He’s my publisher.
I write those ridiculously lurid romance novels which my publisher sells by the thousands. Everyone wants a bit of naughtiness in their lives, even if it only comes between the pages of a book.
I bought the Lagonda with the proceeds from my second book, ‘Hearts Afire’. It’s still in print and it’s success means that my publisher takes my calls. Not that I ring him all that often but it’s nice to know that I’m important.
Rufus loved me even before I got a publisher.
Our favourite game —— every time I got a rejection letter I would give it to Rufus and he would tear it to shreds.
It was cathartic for both of us but it came to a halt when I noticed the words ‘unfortunately’ and ‘regret’ appear in Rufus’s poo. I love this dog and I would not like to think that shortsighted publishers were damaging him as well as me.
When I’m writing a new book I read each chapter out loud to Rufus and as long as he doesn’t fall asleep I know I’m on the right track.
I swear to God he howled when the heroine in ‘The Flame and the Flower’ met her untimely end.
Rufus isn’t my muse but he is the best judge of what works and what doesn’t.
Once, I tried something new. I wrote a ‘whodunnit’ in the style of Agatha Christie.
Rufus walked out of the room.
I went back to what I was good at.
I run my ‘chaps’ past Rufus as well. If he doesn’t like them, they have to go.
I’ve lost a few very yummy chaps that way but what’s the good of having a dog and barking yourself?
My favourite ‘chap’ is Desmond.
He isn’t very exciting but he is bright and Rufus loves him.
We sort of grew up together; sort of went to the same schools. He knew me and liked me before I became a success. I love my freedom but I’m not sure how much longer I can keep on saying no to Desmond’s proposals. A girl has to settle down sometime; but not just yet.
I mentioned the Lagonda.
I bought it off a young chap who works in the city.
He lost his shirt when the market turned down.
He’d been trading his own account, which is very naughty for a stockbroker. Penny stocks; they’ll get you every time.
My grandfather warned me against them.
He made a fortune when he shorted the market just before the crash of 1907. Made an absolute bundle then frittered it away on women, fast cars and slow horses.
Drank like a fish as well.
Broke my grandmother’s heart and by the time my father came of age there was nothing left except for the house and a collection of broken down cars.
Despite all the mayhem, I really liked my grandfather, and I think he liked me.
This weekend is going to be very interesting.
Desmond was supposed to be coming with me but he got called away. He works at the Foreign Office and he often gets called away. He never tells me anything about his work because he knows I can’t keep a secret.
Among the guests for this weekend is an American film producer and I think that Sir William is trying to sell the film rights to one of my books. He is probably hoping that my pretty face will clinch the deal.
I don’t need the money but seeing my name on the silver screen would be very pleasant indeed.
Rufus loves going anywhere in a car, particularly the Lagonda. All I have to do is open the little wooden box I keep the keys in and Rufus starts to dance.
He’s an excellent passenger. Sits quietly. Rides the bumps and leans into the corners. He never falls over, no matter how fast I go. I had a set of goggles made for him and he looks really cute when he wears them. They stop the bugs from getting into his eyes. Unfortunately I forgot to bring them on this trip.
It’s not a particularly long trip to Sir William’s country house but I like to break the journey up by stopping at Beaufort. It’s one of the few country towns that is right on the main road. I have to slow right down when I drive through it so I might as well stop.
Curiously, it has a small French cafe.
Not the sort of thing that you expect to find out here in the back of beyond, but there it is. The cafe is run by a French chef who moved to this country a few years ago after falling in love with a local girl. The townsfolk have no idea how lucky they are to have such an excellent chef running a small cafe in their tiny town. His Quiches are ‘to die for’ and his Patisseries are ‘out of this world’.
I’m gaining weight by just typing these words.
A cup of excellent coffee to round off the meal and I take Rufus for a walk so that he can have a sniff around and relieve himself. Rufus is an excellent cafe dog. He sits quietly and doesn’t beg for food, but I usually give him a bit of what I’m eating. He even behaves when other dogs walk by with the single exception of Dachshunds. It must be something to do with those stumpy little legs. He really can’t stand them.
From Beaufort it takes less than two hours to reach Sir William’s grand estate. It is generally believed that there is no longer any money in publishing. You wouldn’t say that if you could see Sir William’s house. It sits on about twenty acres of grounds and I saw at least two gardeners on my way up the drive. Fortunately the main gates were open and I waved at the gentleman standing near the entrance but he didn’t wave back; rather rude, I thought.
Sir William met me at the front door and I’m not sure how he knew I had arrived but I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. He suggested that I might want to freshen up before tea and I wasn’t sure if he was alluding to my appearance or just being polite.
He should try belting through the countryside in an open top Legonda and see how fresh he looks.
I decided not to be annoyed and followed his man to my room which was up a delightful staircase. The room was at the front of the house facing south, with an excellent view of the amazing gardens.
I made myself presentable just in time to be called for tea.
Tea was served in the library and the view through the French doors was remarkable. Hydrangeas are a feature of Sir Williams garden but I doubt that he would know one flower from another. The house and the gardens are status symbols to him; a way to impress business associates, and this was a business function if ever there was one.
The Hollywood producer had settled in and instead of tea he had what looked like a large Scotch in one hand and enormous cigar in the other. For a moment I thought that Sir William might have brought in an actor to play the part of a clichéd American producer, but apparently he was the real thing.
Initially, I wondered why Sir William was making all this fuss over the book rights to one of my books. Then I realised that he was trying to sell the producer on a series of films using my books as the inspiration. Putting it that way, it made a lot more sense. Especially if you threw in the rights to several of the other titles that Sir William handles. A few hundred thousand was now looking more like a couple of million, and Sir William would get to keep at least thirty percent. Not bad for a weekend’s work.
Unfortunately this idyllic scene was not to last.
Next morning I was awaked by the sound of Rufus barking.
For a second I wasn’t sure where I was, but as the fog cleared I remembered that I was a guest of Sir William but I was wondering why Rufus sounded so far away. I had closed the bedroom door so that Rufus would not disturb anyone in the night. He tends to wake up around four in the morning and do his rounds. He likes to make sure that I am safe and having a good look around seems like the best way to achieve this.
Some kind soul had bought me a morning cup of tea but had left the bedroom door ajar and Rufus had seized the opportunity to go outside and do his business.
Unfortunately his ‘business’ had taken him into the bushes where he found the lifeless body of our American film producer.
From the way the body was lying I would say that he had fallen, or was pushed, out of his second story window. He was quite dead and had been so for several hours.
I know what dead people look like. I worked for a summer at our local hospital. I told my mother that I was gaining experience for my future career as a writer. I’m not sure if she believed me, but she let me go. To be honest, my goal was spending money, boys and parties; and I succeeded on all fronts. Along the way, there were several dead bodies.
A dead body is a dead body, but some dead bodies cause more problems than others.
Sir William is not going to be happy and neither are the rest of the guests as we will all become suspects and will have to endure an endless round of questions and suspicious looks.
At least Rufus will be spared the tedium.
No one ever suspects the dog.
Painting by Roy Putt