Truth or Heir

This is the penultimate collaborative effort from myself and Eden Baylee.  There are still a couple of solos to come as well as the joint swan song in the series we’ve c alled…

Prompt: My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.

Parts 1 &3 Bill
Parts 2 & 4 Eden

TRUTH OR HEIR

People often wonder how I came to be the owner of such an obviously expensive property. I don’t mind their curiosity. They’re not intending to be rude. It’s just that I’m not someone you’d identify as a ‘lord of the manor’ type. I haven’t got a particularly well-paid job and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not particularly gifted at any sort of activity – leisure or otherwise. My wife Jean and I are basically an average couple that attracts little attention. And yet we’ve got this gorgeous place with big gardens, no mortgage draining our resources, and more rooms than we need, even with our four kids. But we do tell lies. It started way back.  My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family. Jack, our eldest, tells the kids at school that I was an admiral in the navy and retired with a huge pension because of my knighthood, and Janet told her nursery teacher that Jean worked at Buckingham Palace before having any children. All lies, of course, but no less credible than the actual events which led to my family buying and keeping it since very early in the twentieth century.

+++

It started as a bet. I’m not a gambling man, but that day as I trimmed the hundreds of rose bushes, I wondered about my lot in life. At nineteen, Dewbourne House had hired me because dad and granddad had also worked here.

With three generations of gardeners, my trajectory wasn’t all that different from Lord Buffet’s, only he inherited the luxurious castle, and I inherited a job at his ancestral home.

I was happy for a decent paying job, or at least one that supported me enough to get married and have a couple of kids eventually. The thing was, after Jack was born and dad passed away suddenly the following spring, I began fearing the worst. My life was moving in one predictable direction, that of servitude. I wanted more for my kids, and unless I did something to change course, my eldest son would end up following in my footsteps.

But how could I break the cycle?

When Lord Buffet requested my presence to discuss his family’s cemetery orchards, I decided to make him a proposition. It was a risk, one that might have got me fired if I didn’t know he was a bit of a prankster.

+++

He was also incredibly superstitious and a sucker for traditional folklore, which made conning him relatively easy. He’d known dad and granddad as a kid and they’d always done the usual head-nodding as they dispensed totally fictitious wisdoms about the properties of plants and their associations with witchcraft. Henbane, deadly nightshade, yew trees – they’d all been part of the stories I’d heard about him as a kid and we’d laughed at how he’d believed it all.

So, before we sat down together in the conservatory that long-ago day to plan the necessary changes, I made sure I did my research.

“Traditional Lincolnshire apple trees,” I said, “that’s what we need.”

“Why?” he asked, his eagerness showing he was already impressed.

I shrugged as if the answer were obvious.

“They’ve been guardians of graveyards since way back. Symbols of immortality. Gateway to the underworld.”

He leaned nearer, like a conspirator.

“They’re as good as Bible cedars, protect against plague, make the grave soil purer. Yew’s OK, but these…”

The more I added, the more enthusiastic he got. I judged my timing of the punchline with care.

“There’s only one problem,” I said.

“What?”

“They’ve to be planted and looked after by the owner.”

+++

Lord Buffet did that thing with his eyebrow, raised it slowly, just the left one.

I panicked. “What I mean is … your Lordship, your son would have to plant the trees and care for them, as I’m sure he’ll become this home’s rightful owner.”

A smile formed on the old man’s face, barely visible behind his thick white beard. “And who says my good-for-nothing son will inherit the estate?”

“My Lord?” A knot twisted in my stomach.

“You know my son cares no more for this house than he does for me. He visits only when he wants money. What makes you think he’ll tend to this place once I’m gone?”

“Surely, he would—”

“No, he’s an entitled man-child! He needs to learn some hard lessons, only …” He bowed his head.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“The time for me to teach him is long past. You’ve given me the perfect reason to write him out of my will.”

I dared not exhale until he said: “You and your family have served me well. I trust you’ll continue doing so in my next life.”

I nodded.

Lord Buffet was a man of his word, and that’s the whole truth.

 

 

First Love

Our 800-word story sequence is nearing the end and this is the next but last of our solo pieces. The prompt for this one was ‘So, there I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden’. Unfortunately, it’s a wee bit clunky but that’s how it came out of the box, so we had to respect it. You’ll find Eden’s solo effort on  her own blog. I hope you like them both. Thanks for reading.

 

First Love

The songs all make it sound so easy, don’t they? Young lovers, hand in hand, strolling through some idyllic setting, the evening sun warm on their smiling faces, no thoughts of anything but the bliss of being together. Not that they wish harm to anyone else or are even aware of the existence of others, but the fullness of their love allows little space for anything or anyone else in their world.  Their love is a ‘many-splendoured thing’ and hasn’t yet been soured or contaminated by jealousies or habit or the tedium of familiarity. It’s not something that includes children, bank accounts, mortgages; it’s a precious, unique, shared sensation which gives them access to a soft, gentle eternity in a magical kingdom. Together.
And when life, inevitably, intrudes, it bewilders them with its complications, contradictions, unpleasantnesses, and serves only to reinforce their conviction that their love is the one real truth. The media’s preoccupation with the various excesses or deprivations perpetrated by their fellow humans is a jarring commentary on a place from which their adoration of one another has elevated them to a separate, flawless realm. They prefer to listen to the words of the poets

+++

On the other hand, despite what I’ve just said, if you haven’t been there, I’m not really sure whether I’d recommend it. It’s a fine balance. Your age has to be right – pretty young, of course. Probably early teens. Mid teens maybe, but only if you’ve lived a pretty sheltered life. And you’ve got to have had the right doses of reality – a few, but not too many. Certainly nothing remotely serious. No bereavements, obviously, and no big brothers or sisters with their own emotional hang-ups from the times when they’ve been there. Oh, and don’t get it mixed up with sex – that’s a very easy mistake to make.
Then, of course, there’s the collateral damage when it ends, or even, before then, the little fissures which just appear, letting in ordinary light and bits of reality. They’re minute and of hardly any significance really but they can feel like world-ending earthquakes. The trouble is, I can’t help you there because they’re so unpredictable. They could be just from a word that’s said, a name that’s mentioned, a misunderstanding about a meeting place, being late for a date or, even worse, missing one altogether. Once that sort of thing starts, it’s over.

+++

So what makes me such an expert? I don’t remember much else about back then. But that first love was different. I’ve still got such clear memories of it. It’s definitely left its mark. And it’s only happened once.
Because you learn from the experience and, every time you start to feel the same thing, you mostly know what to expect, so you never let yourself be vulnerable in the same way.
She wasn’t even my first girl-friend. There’d been a couple of others before her. But this one was love. It was at a party. I don’t remember any of the usual stuff – what she was wearing, her figure, her voice – none of that. It was her eyes. She was with a group of her friends; she looked up, straight at me, and kept on looking. Huge dark brown eyes, mesmerising. She was still talking with her friends, but those eyes kept coming back to me. I wasn’t hearing what anyone around me was saying any more. I just kept staring at her. In the end, I just walked away from my friends, pushed past the other little groups, went over to her, and we started dancing. Close.

+++

We just danced. No speaking. No words. We met up again the following evening, and the one after. And that was it. The kissing and all the rest of it started a week or so later. Soon we were together all the time –movies, gigs, restaurants. We even got a credit card together, so there were never any money issues. I told her I loved her. She said, “Thank you. I love you, too.” We both really believed it, really meant it. It lasted for nearly a year. Serious stuff. But then… well, one day it was over. I got a note from the bank saying we were over our limit. I didn’t understand it, but checked. We were standing in the queue outside a club when I told her about it. She didn’t seem bothered. Or even interested. Eventually she lost her temper. I hated seeing her upset. Tried to calm her down. Just wanted to kiss her, reassure her, tell her I loved her. Then she told me she’d been using the card to book weekends at hotels for her and this other guy. So, there I was, just standing there, when what I wanted to do was forbidden.

 

SNEAK THIEF

Amazingly, not only are Eden Baylee and I still writing stories together but we’re still friends. If you’re a regular visitor, thanks for your stamina and support and, if you’re new to the stories and enjoy the idea, there are plenty more of them back to the beginning of 2021.

Prompt: He swore on his mother’s grave, but then he swore on just about everything.

Parts 1 and 3 BK
Parts 2 and 4 EB

SNEAK THIEF

When things started disappearing at work – iphones, laptops, invoices, – everyone knew that Bernard was involved in it somehow or other. He’d started as a junior clerk less than a year ago but he was so bad at lying that his reputation was soon fixed, and new disappearances were greeted with shrugs and renewed decisions not to trust him with anything of value or significance. He always protested his innocence, of course, and nothing was ever proved but there wasn’t much room for doubt. If anyone ever confronted him directly, even with the merest hint of an accusation, he pretended to be deeply hurt, denied all knowledge of it, swore on his mother’s grave, but then he swore on just about everything. And when Tommy Simpson said that, anyway, he knew Bernard’s mother had been cremated, Bernard made up some story about that not being his real mother and that he’d been adopted.

In the end, it was the Head of Personnel, Sally Hughes, who sorted it all out. Mind you, she had to. Either that or she herself would be fired because she – or someone – had ‘mislaid’ the files of two of the company’s best customers, including all their account details.

+++

George Willows sat on the board, even after he’d stepped down as CEO. The tech company hired Bernard sans interview. That he was the former boss’s only son was supposed to be a secret, but someone talked. That’s how it goes when you pull in a salary for doing nothing. It pisses off the oldsters in the company. Still, despite a fat pay cheque, Bernard couldn’t satisfy his shopping addiction.

On the Friday before going on vacation, he sat in his cubicle and scrolled through Ebay. Those first few hours dragged until lunch time. How he loathed the mornings! He didn’t need anything, but as usual, he always found something that jumped out at him. And on this day, a set of headphones did just that.

Apple AirPods Max.

They looked sleek, came in different colours, and a pair (or two) would come in handy for his trip. Before he pressed the BUY button, he stood up and looked around the maze of the open concept office. All he saw were heads down, tapping on keyboards. He locked his screen and decided to take a walk. Why pay for the headphones if he might find them in the storage room?

+++

The colleagues he passed at their various desks no longer even bothered to look up at him. Somebody somewhere would have to deal with him at some point, and it shouldn’t be any of them.

Unbeknown to Bernard, however, one pair of eyes were closely focused on him. Peering through the slats of the blind in Sally Hughes’s office window, George Willows watched his son weave his way through the desks. Thinking she had nothing to lose, Sally had dared to contact her ex-CEO to report the company’s plight and ask whether, given his close relationship with the principal suspect, he might be able to suggest a diplomatic solution to the problem which might be less injurious both to Bernard and the company’s professional standing.

As Bernard, at the door to the basement stairs, took a quick look around the serried desks, then opened it and disappeared, Willows Senior, without a word to Sally, left her office and wove his own way to the still open door.

Bernard was using his cell phone to light the various shelves and boxes through which he was searching so he was unaware that he had company until a voice from the darkness asked ‘Looking for something, Bernard?’

+++

George flipped the switch and flooded the room in light.

Bernard swung around, his hand to his chest. “Dad! You scared the hell out of me!”

“What are you doing?”

“I … Mary asked me to find a stapler.”

“Cut the bullshit.” George stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

“Dad, listen—”

“Don’t Dad me! As if your poor attitude wasn’t bad enough, now you’re a thief as well?”

Bernard shuffled his feet. “Is Sally accusing me? She’s never liked me!”

The older man locked eyes with his son. “At this moment, the police are going through your desk. Are they going to find something that shouldn’t be there?”

The blood drained from Bernard’s face. He’d meant to return the files — top clients with tons of money. He just wanted to snoop through them when he was bored, but then he’d neglected to return them to the cabinet, not to mention an iPad and several pairs of sunglasses as well.

“You’ll return everything you’ve stolen, or I’ll advise pressing charges. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Dad.” He hung his head.

George walked out without another word. Bernard followed.

No sign of any police.