2009 is the year of the book. At least the book I’m writing. Or going to write. Which isn’t easy on two counts. No, three actually. The first being the actual writing of a book. No walk in the park, that. Secondly, I’ve been stuck in a present tense declarative world of writing drama for so long that any other way of writing looks plain wrong. And thirdly, each time I try and write something I end up in a late nineteenth century novel…
The ancient grandfather clock chimed for the twelfth and final time and returned the room to a silence interrupted only by the occasional crack and pop from the fireplace.
Donald Leach looked at each of his two friends, both similarly reclined in well-worn leather armchairs, all in possession of cigars and brandy glasses.
“There it is, gentlemen, the witching hour,” he produced a fresh cigar from the box on the table beside him. “Who would like to start proceedings?”
James Patrick, a giant of an Irishman with purple ruddy cheeks and a shock of blonde hair that would please a man half his age, looked over to Donald, then to his gathered friends.
“I wouldn’t know where to start, to be honest. I can’t say I’ve ever done anything to inspire concern or controversy, contrary to popular belief.”
“Oh, come now, James, if there’s one amongst us who is surely over-qualified in that area, surely it must be you?”
The big man laughed, “Oh, I’ve lived a life, there’s no debating that, but not one full of the kind of intrigue you’re sniffing for. I’ve fought in wars, yes, I’ve killed people, and I’ve seen some pretty unpleasant things, some of which still weigh heavy on this old mind, for sure, but there’s nothing out there exists, or happened, that I feel was out of place or against my nature. I’ll go to my grave with a full belly and happy conscience.”
“Now that’s disappointing to hear. I was expecting tales of dark mischief from foreign lands, with maybe evil done with foreign hands? And here you sit amongst us, a decorated war hero, without so much as a blemish on your soul. What is the world coming to?” Donald reached across towards the fireplace and gave the long satin sash a silent tug. “Another brandy, gentlemen?”
“And I’ll not be much use to you, either, I’m afraid.” Robert Jackson was a slender, elegant man, around seventy with a full head of glorious white hair, with eyebrows and moustache to match. “I have no war medals to boast of, but neither do I have any dark tales to further darken this room. Although content with my lot, my life has been relatively dull, certainly in comparison to the Major here.”
“Oh, Bob,” said James, “routine is routine. My tales of derring-do are only of interest to those that have no experience of the army. You sit in a room filled with retired officers and you’ll soon see how dull life sounds. It’s always what the other man has that is of interest. You, for example, have had three wives, and for a man that has kept true to his vows to the same woman for fifty years, that certainly inspires a raised eyebrow or two.”
“Robert Jackson and his harem,” laughed Donald, “an ongoing saga that has kept many a tongue busy in certain circles and not a few happily married men more than a little jealous, mark my words. Yours is no dull life, my friend. But where is the darkness? Somewhere amongst us we must have a secret, some sin knocking on our conscience, waiting to get out. None of us have long left on this earth, gentlemen, confession time is upon us, lest we miss out on our place on the other side.”
“What about you, then, Donald, you brought this up, you suggested this evening’s post-dinner confessional. Are you about to drop on us a bombshell of the type that will have James comparing endless near-miss encounters with enemy mortar?
“No, nothing of the sort, unfortunately,” laughed Donald, “there is nothing remarkable about my life, not only are there no skeletons in my closet but no defining moments, either. I fell in love with my first and only wife, the dear and departed Isabelle, whilst still only in short pants. It seems I always new what I wanted before I ever really needed it and always ended up getting it. Pretty damn dull, really. My only regret would be never telling her just how much I really did love her.”
“Come now, Donald, that woman doted on you, night and day, she knew how much you loved her, there was never any question about that.” Robert drained the last of his brandy and, as if on cue, a light knock at the door advertised the arrival of their refills.
“Come in, Batters,” called Donald, “bring on the booze, this lot are in need of livening up.”
The aged Batters entered the room, silver tray loaded with glistening crystal refills, his crumpled trousers dragging along the floor, looking as if they were pinched from a man twice his size, and possibly twice his age. Batters shuffled across the library and laid the tray down on the serving table. “I took the liberty of bringing in some cheese, sir, and a few of those chocolates that arrived the other day.”
“Batters, I don’t know what I’d do without you,” smiled Donald, “well, apart from lose weight, that is. I don’t suppose you can gift us with any dark tales from your seedy past and save this evening from being a complete failure? Any skeletons in your well groomed butler’s closet?”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there, sir, a butler’s closet is always skeleton free. Our time is mostly taken up removing the skeletons from those who employ us.”
The room erupted into laughter.
“Oh, if only that were true, then I’d have a glorious tale to regale my dull old friends with, but my old antique closets are only rich in moth-eaten silks and not much more. Thank you, Batters, that will be all, you may retire now.”
“Very good, sir. Goodnight gentlemen.”
A chorus of muttered good evenings accompanied Batters as he shuffled from the room, leaving the men sitting in silence.
A loud crack and pop drew their attention to the fire. They all stared in silence as the flickering flames cast a ballet of shadows around the enormous fireplace. After what seemed an eternity, Robert Jackson cleared his throat, shifted uneasily in his seat and said quietly, "There is something, actually. Something I would like to say."