Through The Apple Store by Wentworth M Johnson

shadow

Through The Apple Store

by Wentworth M Johnson

Chapter 1

Faraway

Faraway from home in a foreign land, tears streamed down my face as I stood and listened to the Queen’s Own Rifles pipe band playing Amazing Grace. Barely able to breathe as the emotion evoked by the proceedings choked my throat, I watched through clouded vision as the two coffins were lowered into the ground. When the pipes reached a crescendo my heart skipped a beat and felt as though it had stopped. There is no sound on Planet Earth as final and spirit-grasping as the Highland War Pipes.

Scarcely able to control my feelings I saluted, turned and fled the scene. The music stopped, then the preacher mumbled something and there were shots from the rifles of the guard. Suddenly, like a roll of thunder, the band drummed up and played Farewell to Gibraltar. They marched two abreast from the cemetery and formed a parade at the gates. With a swirl of the drum major’s mace, they broke into Scotland the Brave and marched down the drive toward the house.

Never have I seen such a wonderful and moving tribute to the dead. The major and my own father side by side at eternal rest – maybe. According to Father’s journal he still lives faraway and unreachable with his beloved Anneke. Now that the official secrets act is no longer a concern I can tell the whole story. It took me weeks to fathom it all out as the chronology presented a real problem. My father had been a professional studio technician for a small TV film company in Toronto, Canada. In those days he worked all kinds of hours. You never knew when he was going to be home or how long he would stay. He had a car for his use and Mom had one for herself. We lived a hectic and uneventful life in a detached back split on a subdivision in Oakville, just a few minutes from Toronto.

My life changed forever two days before my tenth birthday. Mom and Dad were often arguing about money and at that age I had no real appreciation of financial problems. I knew my pocket money seemed extremely sparse, even though I did all the chores allotted to me. Other guys always had spare change in their pockets. This time the argument seemed really serious, though they didn’t get to exchange blows.

Dad was a remote man and difficult to know and seldom at home, when he was around he kept his thoughts to himself. It seemed to me that he was either always at work or asleep. I can’t remember any time when he took us out like regular folk. Well, that’s not exactly true, once he took us to a Chinese restaurant by the lake front. Unfortunately the day finished with Mom and Dad arguing – as usual. It was no real surprise when I came home from school one day and found Mom stood beside the sink weeping. She said that Dad had run off with some other woman. I felt angry and hurt, and hated him for what I thought he had done. When I needed him most he had deserted us. The funny thing is I remembered him clearly. He was a young, virile and energetic man, 6 foot 2, handsome and with slick black hair. There was only one photo of him – that’s the one I kept in my wallet. I think Mom threw all the others away in a fit of spite. Although I felt angry because he’d left us, there remained that longing to see him again.

By the time I reached twenty-two, twelve years after he had left us, I was living in Western Canada. Mother lived with her seventh or eighth boyfriend somewhere near Toronto. I really didn’t know or care where she was or who she slept with. Work had been hard to get and harder to hold down. I had found work in a shoe warehouse and made enough money to live on. This particular day when I returned to my apartment in Vancouver, an RCMP officer stood waiting by my door. I didn’t know he was a cop at first as he was dressed in plain clothes.

“John Merryville?” he said when I approached him.

“Who”s asking?” I growled.

He looked me up and down suspiciously, then flipped open his warrant card. “Royal Canadian Mounted,” he said between his teeth.

“What can I do for you, officer?” He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “We’ve been looking for you for several days.”

“What have I done?” He smiled. “It’s about your father.”

“My father,” I gasped, certainly never expecting to hear from him, especially through the RCMP or any other police, for that matter. “What about him?” He handed me the envelope. “You can see for yourself. Have a nice day, sir.” He walked away leaving me standing like an idiot.

For some reason the communiqué made me tremble. I had not heard from the old man in twelve years and now this. I put my lunch pail down on the sidewalk and tore open the envelope. The words made minimal sense. It was from some lawyer in Toronto. Basically, it said that my father’s estate was being wound up and they needed me to fill in some forms and there was a phone number for me to call. Looking at my watch, I realized it was far too late to phone Toronto. It would have to wait until morning. Sleep came uneasily that night, leaving me to toss and turn. There were some terrible nagging thoughts that would not leave me alone. When I finally slept nightmares plagued my brain – stupid dreams about Mom and Dad fighting, like it brought back all my childish fears.

The alarm clock went off at seven; that’s ten in the morning in Toronto. First thing I grabbed that letter and dialled the contact number. The lawyer made little more sense than the letter. He thought that my father had been convicted on a murder charge and was dying in some prison hospital in The Fenlands of England. I really didn’t care or want to hear any of that crap. I would not have done anything about it except the lawyer said there was quite a large estate to be settled and it looked as though I could be the only relative.

I could not think how Dad could have gotten rich in just twelve years. By now he would be about 45 years old and we didn’t have any relatives on that side of the puddle that I could think of. England was not a country that I had done any thinking about. Why should I? The thought of going there gave me the shivers – all you ever hear about is the fog and the rain.

It took three months to arrange everything. I had to travel all the way to England and contact a man named Howard at some big house near the town of Downham Market. Britain turned out to be completely different to what I had expected. There were no cobbled roads and the people did not walk about with a piece of straw in their mouths. It was just like Toronto, hustle and bustle. There were cars and traffic everywhere, except the English are a little more insane than Canadians when they get behind the steering wheel.

In London I caught a subway train – over there they call it the Tube – and then a surface train to a place called Ely. As I couldn’t get any farther by rail, I hired a taxi to take me to the house near Downham Market. The taxi driver had never heard of it, but figured it would not be too hard to locate. Downham Market seemed easy to find. It is a sort of country market town near two huge parallel rivers.

The countryside looked beautiful, with trees and lush grass. From Downham we headed west toward the Fens. Fens are a sort of flatland area, almost like an arable desert.

“This all used to be swamp,” the taxi driver said. “They do say that the Dutch helped drain it a few hundred years ago.”

They certainly did a fine job, it was quite dry, but I thought it looked desolate. It was late afternoon when the taxi found its way to my destination. We discovered this large and ancient house on a small hill surrounded by trees. The long sandy driveway from the main road to the house wound its way up a very small hill, rising only a dozen feet or so. Bloodisland House looked a miserable place with a blue slate roof and blind windows. It looked like a mortuary or funeral parlour. There were several outbuildings and a gravel courtyard. Although cared for, it struck me as an unwanted place.

An aged codger with grey hair stood by the front door. He had an ornate walking stick in one hand and a Yorkshire Dale cap on his head. He was not bearded but had an enormous waxed handlebar moustache that drooped either side of his mouth. As the car stopped the old man came and opened the door.

“John Merryville?” he asked in a mumbling, almost shy but very English tone. “Sure,” I said and climbed from the car.

The old man muttered something to the driver and handed him some money. “I’ll take you up to the house, old boy,” he said.

Up to the house? We were already there. The taxi driver unloaded and leaving all my things on the driveway, drove off in a cloud of dust.

“Welcome to Bloodisland House,” my host said. “It’s your pater’s, don’t you know.”

No, I didn’t know. I couldn’t think of anything sensible to say. He led the way into the building. I felt suitably impressed. The decor was probably original mid Victorian and the furniture looked original also. Everything was dark and expensive-looking. The house had electric lighting, but the wall panelling sucked up all the light giving the interior a dark and spooky aura.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” my host said. “I am Major Howard H. Howard, Queen’s Own Riffles, retired.” He stuck out his hand. I shook it, but still couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say. The entrance hall and stairs had many paintings hanging on the walls. I probably looked a simpleton with my wrinkled clothes and inability to comprehend my surroundings. He pulled his cap off his head in politeness, revealing a baldpate. “I’ll show you around once you are settled in.”

“Will the staff bring my bags in?” I asked. Howard coughed, almost choking on his words. “We … that is I and Mrs. Brown are the staff. I’ll show you to your room.”

I nodded and felt rather foolish.

“This way,” he said brightly and led the way up a wide staircase. “There is an awful lot for you to learn,” he whispered softly.

The house felt like a museum, with everything looking original and over 100 years old. With the heavy drapes, thick carpets and chunky furniture, it was as silent as a funeral parlour. Howard pulled a key from his pocket, one that was almost 8 inches long. He stuck it in the keyhole and opened the door. With an embarrassed cough he said, “This is your room,” and handed me the huge key. “The house is yours, do as you will. You may address me as major or Mr. Howard.”

I took the key and nodded. I had a thousand questions but could not think how to voice them. It was as though I had arrived in an alien world with strange and unfriendly artefacts. Howard marched out of my room and vanished from sight. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. As I surveyed the opulent room I could see it must be worth a fortune in antique furniture. The entire south wall was draped and the centre section had a glass door with a window either side. The door led to a balcony that overlooked the grounds to the rear of the house. Not far away lay a cemetery with an 8-foot brick wall and an arched gate. The driveway to the cemetery came right past the house. With resignation, I walked down the stairs and collected my cases from the middle of the gravel drive. When I re-entered the house, Howard stood in the hallway. “Sorry I can’t help.” He coughed, blinked several times and placed one hand on his hip. “It’s the back, don’t you know.”

“Why don’t we have more staff?” I asked.

Howey stuttered a couple of times while he put his brain in gear. “I don’t have the authority, don’t you know.”

“Who does?”

“Well … I … I suppose you do, but … but, well, you’ll have to see the executor first, I suppose.”

“When do I get to see my father?”

“Ah, well, now there is another story.”

“Is my father dead or alive?”

“Well,” he stopped and sucked his lip for a few seconds. “He’s in hospital, I suppose,” he said, then coughed as though he didn’t want anyone to understand what he was saying. “Dinner will be at eight, in the dining room. I would like to talk to you then.”

I nodded in acknowledgement. All this cloak-and-dagger stuff seemed a little childish. I thought it was probably the English way and I didn’t pursue it any further. Although the house and everything in it seemed very expensive, I began to dislike the place. It was too much like a mausoleum or a very fancy tomb. The pictures on the walls were mostly of folk long since dead. Howard saw me staring at one of the paintings.

“That’s mad Albert, your stepfather-in-law, don’t you know!”

Shaking my head with incomprehension, I lugged the cases up the stairs to my room. Perhaps jet lag was catching up with me. I felt terrible and wanted to stand in an open field and scream my head off. Anything would do to relieve the monotony and stupidity of this strange museum. Somehow closing my door acted as a terminator. It closed the real world off and left me in that pretend world of antiques.

There was nothing to complain about luxury-wise. The accommodation seemed five star. I tried to keep my mind occupied by unpacking and then I tried to lay everything out in the appropriate closets, drawers and cupboards. The amount of stuff that I’d brought looked very sparse in the enormous space provided. I wanted to explore the house and grounds, but thought it would be more polite to wait to be asked. At long and boring last, the large, old grandfather clock in the hall struck eight. Just as I was about to leave and find the dining room a tap, tap, tap came to my door. I opened it. Howard stood there in his best clothes, with a row of medals across his chest.

“Dinner is served,” he said almost too quietly to be heard.

“Thank you,” I replied and followed him along the hall and down the stairs, and eventually to the dining room. Like everywhere else it was big and opulent. The table looked large enough to seat twenty people. He pulled out a chair at the head of the table and indicated for me to sit. I sat and he sat just round the corner to my right.

“I’m sorry about all this,” he said softly. “You see, it’s very difficult for me. I’ve been your father’s friend for fifty years and I don’t want to let him down this close to the end.”

I thought the poor old boy must be moderately senile. He could not have known my father that long, as Dad was only about 45 years old. “Really,” I answered nonchalantly.

“You would have loved your stepmother. She was the most beautiful woman in the world. I’ll show you her picture after dinner.”

“When did my father get married again?”

Howey choked then stammered, “Well, I think it was sixty-two.”

“Couldn’t have been; he was in Canada then.” Howard coughed nervously and stumbled his words again. The poor old devil seemed quite embarrassed. “I can only say, you have some terrible shocks coming, young man, don’t you know.” Mrs. Brown, another antique, came into the dining room wheeling a trolley loaded with steaming-hot food. “You’ll be serving yoursel’,” she hissed in a Scottish brogue, then turned and marched out of the room leaving the trolley beside Howey.

“She’s a little brusque,” the major apologized. “I think you’ll get to like her. She’s an excellent cook, don’t you know.” He carefully dished out the food and handed me a plate. “This is a very serious business, you know.”

“What is?”

He choked on his words for a few seconds. “Your father is accused of murder. He didn’t do it. I know he didn’t. Well … well, you’ll have to judge for yourself. I’ll take you to see the executor; he’s your father’s lawyer, don’t you know.”

“I don’t know anything,” I said. “My father left home in 1986 and I haven’t seen him since. I was only ten.”

“Well,” the major said. “It was about then that it all happened. He was accused of killing that woman Claudette Dufoe. It went to trial and, well, well he was found guilty. They gave him life. ’Cause he’s not in jail. He’s in the Cambs Hospital in Wisbech.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Dying.”

“Of what?”

“He’s terminal. The Big ‘C’, don’t you know.”

“Cancer?”

The major nodded his head. “That’s why you’re here. He wants to talk to you before he goes again.”

“Again?”

“Well, before he dies.”

“Why?”

Howey coughed and verbally faltered. “It is very difficult for me,” he said. “I love your father as if he were my brother. Together we saved the world. He’s a good and honest man. They think he’s crazy. You probably think I’m crazy. I would like to ask you a great favour.”

“Go ahead.”

“Things here don’t make any sense; the timing is all mixed up, you see. What I want you to do is just accept what your father and I tell you. Neither of us is mad, but ... but, well, you may have great difficulty understanding. In time it will all become clear.”

“Like you knowing my father before he was born?” I queried. The major exploded, trying to clear his throat, “Yes, exactly.”

“Well,” I said, “what exactly is your position here?”

He smiled. “I was hired by Jedadiah Merryville as caretaker when I retired from the army in 1972. But I’ve sort of been here since 1944.”

“Why is the house called Bloodisland?” The question was a shock to the old man and after some spluttering he answered, “Well, before the Fens were drained this little hill was an island in the swamp. The Vikings named it Blood Island, at least that’s how the story goes.”

“Why?”

“They plundered the entire area, but when they came to this island they met their match. Thousands of them were massacred before they eventually captured the island. That’s why they christened it Blood Island. The house, this house was built by mad Albert in the 1840’s. He called the place by the name of the old island.”

I felt quite impressed by the history, yet at the same time confused by it. Major Howard was obviously not sure of his dates of lineage and succession. Nonetheless the stories were interesting. After dinner we had wine, then still with glass in hand he took me on a tour of the ground floor. The first stop was the entrance hall. Howey looked around trying to decide where to start. “Really,” he said, “the history of this place all rotates around him, don’t you know.” He pointed to a painting of a bearded old gentleman wearing a hat like a conductor’s hat.

His shirt was black and collarless. His entire outfit looked like that of a railway porter.

I walked to the picture and read the brass plate. “Albert Holmes, 1811 to 1892. He lived to a good old age,” I said. Howey sipped his drink, coughed and stammered, “He was eighty-one when he died. They called him mad Albert, don’t you know.”

“Why?”

“He was an inventor; he would disappear for days at a time, don’t you know. This house is just like him – it’s tricky, with secret passages and closed-off areas.”

“Why?”

The major hesitated a few seconds. “You’ll see it all, but in good time. This one is your stepmother. Anneke Merryville née Holmes. Poor child was only a baby when she died.”

I looked at the painting. She was a magnificently beautiful woman. Her features were perfectly symmetrical. For some reason the painting had a haunting quality, a glance always turned into a stare. She seemed to stare back from those gorgeous blue penetrating eyes.

“Wow, 1841 to 1865,” I said, reading the plate. “I thought you said she was a child.”

“She died tragically at 24 young years. Don, your father, said she lives a full life.”

“Lived,” I corrected.

“Whatever,” Howey said, turning to another picture.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Orville Merryville, your half-brother, don’t you know.” Poor Major Howard was obviously confused. Orville died in 1926 at the grand old age of 68. He was old enough to be my father’s grandfather. The next picture was quite a shock – it was a painting of my father. It said 1851 to 1865 on the brass plaque. Which was obviously wrong. It meant that he died at fourteen, yet the picture was of a man in his thirties.

“Who, is he?” I asked. Howard baulked to the point I thought he would choke. “That’s Donavon Merryville,” he said eventually, spitting the words out.

“The first,” I added.

The major turned to another picture – a very pretty young woman, in a tight bodice, bustle and fur collar. “Mrs. Holmes,” he said softly.

“Hmm, 1820 to 1852. She died young,” I commented.

“Indeed. Not according to Don, don’t you know.”

“No, I don’t know and I wish you would stop saying that.”

“Sorry. It’s a habit, don’t yo ...”

In one large frame was a small, well-worn and faded black-and-sepia photograph. It was a picture of a man who looked like my father. Even the clothes were sort of modern.

“Who”s this?” I asked.

After a good splutter he managed to calm himself down. “It’s a photograph of your father. It was taken about twelve years ago.”

“Looks a lot older than that.”

“Oh, it is. It was one of Anneke”s favourite possessions.”

“Sure!” I commented, convinced that the old man had to be several bricks shy of a load.

Howey showed me a few other confusing portraits and then he walked through a door at the back of the hall.

“This is about the centre of the house,” he said as if that had some significance. There was a corridor that ran the width of the building; it led east and west. He walked to a steel door that had a heavy chain and padlock on it. “This is the apple store,” he said.

“Why the chain and lock?”

“It … well … it … it must be kept locked until, until you’re ready. Never know if Albert is fishing or not. Then of course there’s Blood Axe,” he said almost shyly.

“What’s a blood axe?”

Howey stifled his mouth with his hand for a second then changed the subject. “This other room is the star engine.”

I could see no room. “What room?”

He banged on the wall, demonstrating its integrity. “It has an iron wall,” he said. “They welded the door closed in the twenties. The apple store was never welded up, just locked. Don had it opened, for the film crew, don’t you know.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It had something to do with mad Albert. It just had to be. That is the way of things here.”

“So what’s the star engine?” I asked.

“Don’t really know. I’ve never seen it and Don didn’t tell me much about it. I know it was made by Albert in the 1850s and it’s very dangerous, but that’s all.”

“Are there any apples in the apple store?”

Howey laughed. “No, there never has been.”

“So why do they call it the apple store if it’s not for apples?”

“Ah, that’s a very good question. I don’t have the answer. The servant’s quarters are down the other end. The very last door here looks like a small closet. If you will follow me I’ll show you something interesting.”

He opened the door and disappeared into the small room with me following. It was as he said, just a small broom closet or store. At one end of the box room the wall was completely covered by old wooden shelves. Howey lifted the end of one shelf and the entire wall swung inwards, revealing a secret passage. He placed his glass on one of the shelves and pulled a flashlight from his pocket.

“It’s a secret passage?” I asked.

“Yes, it leads to most rooms on the upper floor. Here,” he said and found the light switch on the wall. He flicked it and the passage became dimly illuminated. As soon as I passed into the passage he closed the door. “We don’t want anyone else to know about this,” he said.

“Where does it go?”

The old fellow led the way and showed me how to activate the many entrance devices. Then up a very narrow set of stairs. Again he showed me the activating devices to open the portals into almost all the rooms on the top floor. My room was one of the few exceptions. Eventually he opened one room where we both entered.

“This is where it happened,” he said. “The lemon room.”

“What?”

“It hasn’t been changed a bit. This is how it was.”

“When? What?” I demanded.

“Oh. This is where that actress woman was murdered, don’t you know. She was lying just there when I found her,” he said, pointing to the spot.

The room looked very elegant with a four-poster bed. I guessed the rest of the furniture to be very old. It looked ancient and expensive. The sort of stuff you would only see at an antique show.

“Where was my father’s room?” I said.

“Ah, you see, he was next door, don’t you know. That’s why they blamed him. He was the first on the scene. It was Blood Axe, that’s who did it.”

“Who’s Blood Axe?”

The major fumbled his words at first as if he was embarrassed to explain. “He’s a Viking. Escaped from the massacre at Blood Island, don’t you know.”

The man was insane. It was obvious how my father became convicted, if this idiot had been a witness.

“How do you open the passage from this side?” I said, trying to change the subject.

Howey walked over to the heavily panelled wall where we had entered. The trapdoor was self-closing. Gently, he pushed the unused gaslight aside then pushed the panel; it rotated rather like a circular door. As soon as he let go everything quietly returned to normal.

“Do they all do that?” I asked.

“More or less. Now, I think you’ve seen enough for one day. There is no secret passage to your room.” He pulled one of the huge keys from his pocket and opened the exit door.

I have to admit, as tired as I was, sleep would not come to me. It felt that the house was filled with ghosts. The silly thoughts instilled by poor, mixed-up Howard bubbled through my mind. The woodwork creaked and the shadows were unusually animated. At long last the sun climbed into the sky. Breakfast was something to look forward to.

My room had its own private bathroom. It was as antique as the rest of the house. The toilet must have been one of John Crapper’s first models. The chain was terribly noisy and required several pulls to effect a flush. The vanity taps were huge lions that spewed water from their mouths. The hot water clanked and banged for several seconds before actually releasing anything.

At breakfast Howey asked me if I could drive.

“Sure,” I said.

“Oh, good, won’t have to get that boring Evans to drive us then. He’s the village policeman’s son, don’t you know.”

“You mean you want me to drive us somewhere?” I said aghast.

“Yes, we can use the estate Land Rover. It’s not far. We’ll go see the lawyer in Downham Market.”

“I don’t like the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road,” I said apologetically.

“Stuff o’ nonsense,” he growled. “It’ll do you good to drive the right way for a change.”

After breakfast he took me to one of the sheds in the back courtyard. The Land Rover was a fairly new model with almost no miles on the clock. We climbed aboard and with my heart in my mouth, started on the journey to Downham.

“Think left, think left,” I kept telling myself. The journey turned out to be uneventful and the traffic quite light. I parked in a sort of marketplace near the top of a long hill.

“I’ll just walk about town till you return,” Howey said.

“Why?”

“Don’t like that lawyer chap, don’t you know.”

The lawyer’s office was poky and in a rundown Victorian tenement block. James, the lawyer of Granville and James, was an old man of about sixty or so. He was completely bald and wore glasses almost as big as bicycle wheels.

“I’m James,” he said and stuck out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Merryville.”

“Indeed, indeed, sit, sit.”

I sat. “What exactly am I doing here?”

“Ah, now. Well. You have met that old fart Howard?”

“Yeah.”

“Silly old sod’s as mad as a hatter. Still, that’s not new at Bloodisland. Not new at Bloodisland, I say.”

“No,” I said, hoping he would move on to the next sentence.

“No, not at all. Madness runs in the family. Albert was as mad as a hatter. And that silly sod Jedadiah, and your grandfather, nutty as a fruitcake.”

“I don’t recall having a grandfather.”

“Oh yes. The silly old sod’s convicted of murder.”

“I thought that was my father.”

“You’ve been listening to that old fart Howard, daft as a brush that one. No, your grandfather Donavon Merryville murdered that tart, what’s-her-name.”

“Donavon is my father,” I said.

“No, no, no, couldn’t be. He’s been here since Jesus wore short pants. Your father disappeared, bloody vanished off the face of the earth. Probably went somewhere and forgot who he was. Madness runs in the family.”

I began to think it was an English trait and not a family trait. “So why am I here?”

“Grandfather Merryville left everything to your father years ago, but the stupid old sod hadn’t the sense to die. Your father bogged off into the netherworld of missing persons. Your grandfather’s dying, so we have to get this thing cleared up. If you want the estate it’s yours. Pay me and the government the appropriate fee and you’re home clear.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“You don’t need any. That old fool Albert left millions in trusts, shares, company stocks, bonds and bank accounts in foreign countries. There’s no shortage of cash, but you see no one can touch it until we get all the legal stuff out the way. Get me?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ll do all the work, all I need is your go-ahead.”

“But what about my father?”

“He’s legally dead; silly old bugger’s been missing for more than seven years, finished, dead, legally that is.”

“No, I mean my grandfather?”

“Oh. Well he doesn’t count; he’s dying and officially still incarcerated. As long as you don’t go mad on me we’ll be all right. I am going to charge you for all my work.”

“Sure, I just don’t understand what’s going on here.”

“Never mind. You should go see your grandfather. He’s quite mad, but you should go see him before he kicks off.”

“Kicks off?”

“Dies. If I were you I’d burn that house, it’s nothing but trouble, filled with unfriendly ghosts and the like.”

“I stayed there last night,” I said. “I didn’t see any ghosts.”

“Mmm, well you will. They call it Albert’s fishing or some such twaddle. You know six American soldiers disappeared in that house, your father and I dare say several other people. Then there was that bloody awful murder. Howard went there as a government rep in 1940-something; the silly old sod’s been there ever since.”

I did not like James the lawyer or his attitude and could not understand what exactly he had to do with anything. I had been called because my father was in trouble; I know and knew nothing about any grandfather. I began to think that the entire race of English people was, in their terms, ‘cracked’.