Emily And The Badger II

The walk back was warmer – the morning was becoming noonish, and the winter sun was higher – but, then again, it might have been the brandy.

“You brew up a wicked batch of hooch, Duchess.”

Emily chuckled.

“Is that the same stuff we had last night?”

“Basically, but that back there?  That was pretty raw.  The boys were having a laugh.  They tapped a green barrel for your benefit.”

“But …?” Dreyfus shook his head and lifted his hand in question.

Emily laughed, “Oh!  They have a nasty, cold job, and it’s night work, and … so when I’m around, I usually drop in at the end of their shift, and we have a toddy.  Just a gesture.  When they saw us — there are no secrets at Pyaridge — they thought it would be cute to make you sputter a bit.”  Emily tilted her head, “Take it as a compliment.  But,” Emily stopped and turned to Dreyfus, “Do you mind?  Please don’t call me Duchess or Lady or … I get enough of that in public life, and people mostly get it wrong.”

“Certainly,” Dreyfus bobbed his head, “Milady.” And he smiled his half snarl twinkle smile, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist one last time.”

Emily gave him a mitten slap on the shoulder, and they started walking again.

“But I do have a question.  Why are you Lady Perry-Turner and not Lady Weldon?  I looked it up when Sydney told me who you actually were, and that’s what Burke’s said you’re supposed to be.”

“Oh, that.” Emily pointed to her left.  “No, we’re going to the stables first.  I want to see the horses and talk to Billie.”

“We’re not riding?” Dreyfus was sceptical and concerned.

Emily waved her left hand, “No, you’re off the hook – for today.  Dawna and Billie will be back soon, so we’ll just wait for them and then go up to lunch.”

“Lunch?  We just had breakfast.”

Emily smiled at him.  “You’ll get the hang of country living eventually.”

“Probably not — but lead the way,” Dreyfus said, gesturing forward.  “So what’s the story?”

Emily thought about it for a moment, as they walked.  It was one thing to talk about stables and fox hunting; quite another to trot out the family laundry.  But she never really hesitated.  She had decided back in London that she wanted Sinclair on whatever terms, and if he wanted to know, she’d tell him.  Her only real concern was that he might not be interested.

“It’s difficult to know where to start.  Uh — my great-grandfather was David Turner, Sir David, actually.  He made his money in shoes.  He married my great-grandmother Vera, who was, by default, the Duchess.  That goes back too far to explain.  Let’s just say my family has Royal Letters Patent that can set aside primogeniture and allow women to inherit and hold the title suo jure – umm – that means – um,” Emily wagged her hands searching for the words, “In their own right.  (That’s me, too, by the way.)  But anyway, after the First World War, all the Perry men were dead; in fact, all the men were dead.  A whole generation of local gentry simply vanished.  So, in 1919, husbands were hard to come by, and great-grandma Vera needed one.  But that’s another long story.  Anyway, Sir David came back from the war with a wooden leg and the other foot on the social ladder.  He was a poacher who wanted to be a gamekeeper.  He also had a serious drug habit.  The story goes that he used to sprinkle cocaine in his opium pipe and smoke it in the library after breakfast.  Anyway, it was like at first sight — or, at least, not dislike — and he and Vera were married before the ink was dry on the peace treaty.  However, Sir David refused to go to the altar unless ‘Turner’ was added to the family name.  That’s how we came to be Perry-Turners.  And, because he couldn’t be a Duke or even Lord Weldon, he insisted the designation be changed so he could style himself ‘Lord Perry-Turner’ instead of just plain old ‘Sir.’  The House of Lords wouldn’t help him out on that, so he took it to Buck House.”

Dreyfus’ look was the question.

“Buckingham Palace.  And he was given a letter, signed by George V, that said he could have it any way he liked.  It’s in the library if you want to see it.  That’s why I can be called Lady Perry-Turner or Lady Weldon or Duchess or …”

“Just not by me.”

 They had arrived at another set of white stone buildings, surrounded by white plank fencing — much smaller than the stables but built in the same style.

“This used to be the woodsheds, then the coal sheds.  Then they were empty for years, so when we converted the stables, I moved the horses up here.  Some people think it’s too close to the house, but some people think we shouldn’t keep horses at all.”

(Undoubtedly the bean-counting Ms. Miller.)

“That’s a pretty impressive story.”  Dreyfus said, thinking he’d like to move Emily around the corner, out of sight of the house and kiss her.

“By all accounts, Sir David was a charming fellow — even if he was stoned most of the time.”  But Emily was distracted, looking out over the grounds.  Then she whistled.  “Here’s Billie and Dawna with the dogs.”

Thwarted and feeling it, Dreyfus’ voice was a little blunt. “What do you want Billie for?”

Emily turned her head sharply.  It was the woman from the photograph.  Dreyfus had seen her before – clear, confident on the edge of severe.  Lady Perry-Turner was not used to being questioned, and certainly not in the shadow of her own house.  For a nanosecond … and then … it was Sinclair standing there – her Sinclair.  She smiled.

“He’s going to help me shoot a badger.”

You can read more about Dreyfus and Emily’s Christmas adventure here.

Emily And The Badger

“Would you like to learn?’

“Not particularly,” Dreyfus said, wondering how the conversation had gone from — how was breakfast to him on the back of 1,000 pounds of four-legged fury.  Actually, he knew.  The Lady Perry-Turner had a vast knowledge of local history and geography and her family’s place in it; plus, she liked to talk.  The original question was “Why do you eat breakfast in that big room?”  So, as they walked along, Emily, waddling liked a padded-up tan panda (Ms. Miller insisted) and Dreyfus, carefully stepping in his too-big boots (borrowed) he got a quick peek into

Victorian architecture —

“They put the dining rooms as far away from the kitchens as possible. They didn’t like the smell.”

Fox hunting —

“Hunting season is autumn and winter, so one of my great-great-something-or-others put the Hunt Room closer to the kitchen so breakfast wouldn’t be cold.”

“We hunted here right up until Daddy got too sick to ride.  But, you know, funny thing, we never kept a kennel.  Odd!”

Horses —

“But we always had horses.  Lots of them.  The stables are huge.  You’ll see.  That’s where I put the distillery. 

And riding them —

“They were built by my great grandmother Vera.  She was a massive enthusiast.  Never missed a hunt.”  Emily paused, “And they say, when she was younger, did steeplechase and jumped fences.  Side-saddle!  When I get better,” Emily shook her mittened hand, “We can go riding.”

“I don’t know how to ride a horse.”

“Would you like to learn?’

“Not particularly,”

The stables were big.  Two long, wide, white stone buildings, side by side.  And while Emily attended to her Duchess duties, Dreyfus strayed over to the other building.  He opened the big oak door and stepped in.  It was warmer than outside, but not by much.  On the left were racks of tools, carefully arranged, and on his right, two neat rows of barrels stacked floor to ceiling, each on its own cradle, the length of the wall.  And in front of him … a group of workmen, sitting in their coats and hats at a round table.  One of them stood up.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning – uh – I hope I’m not intruding?”

“Not a bit of it, sir.  What can we do for you?”

Obviously, these men knew who he was.

“Nothing really.  I was just having a look around – uh — brandy?”  Dreyfus waved his hand.

“Far as the eye can see.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Would you care for a taste, sir?  Warm dram on a cold morning?”

Dreyfus shrugged.  “I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t like to drink alone.  Would you fellows join me?”

That seemed like an excellent idea, and even though they hadn’t thought of it, there were six glasses ready.  One of the younger men took the glasses over to a wooden barrel suspended on a cross-cradle, turned a wooden spigot and filled each glass about a third full.  Healthy dram for mid-morning.  Dreyfus found a place at the table.

“Your health,” he said, raising his glass.  They all drank.  The sip was pure fire, but Dreyfus didn’t let it show.  He pursed his lips and nodded but decided to leave the glass on the table for a minute.  There was a thick, short silence.

‘So you’re a pilot then, sir,” One of the younger men said. “Must be exciting.”

“No, actually – uh – insurance.  The helicopters were …”

There was a trace of disappointed but one of the older men spoke. “In the City, though, that must keep you boiling — especially these days.”  There was a nod and a “Good steady work” and a general acceptance that if you weren’t going to be a pilot, insurance was a reasonable alternative.

“What about you men?  These barrels?”  Dreyfus moved his hand towards them.

“No, no.  We’re Tree Men, sir.” There was pride in the voice.  “Out with the owls, marking the rows, checking the frost.  Night work in the autumn, ‘til pruning time.”

Dreyfus had no idea what he was talking about. “Difficult work in the dark, I imagine?”

“No, not so much if you know your trees.  But you need to keep on top of it.  It’s where it all starts, you see.  Healthy trees.  Without that, there wouldn’t be any of the rest of it.”  The man waved at the barrels.

“Well,” Dreyfus said trying to figure out a way to leave the rest of the firewater on the table.   “I won’t keep you from it.”

“No, not to worry.  It’s just one more go for us and we’re home to our beds.”

A shaft of light and there was Lady Perry-Turner.  The men stood up.

“I see Mr. Sinclair found the sample keg.”

There was a general chuckle. “We thought we’d give him a taste, ma’am.  Let him see what all the fuss is about.” 

Emily smiled, stopped and looked puzzled. “Where’s Randeep?”

“His little one has the colic, ma’am.  We shifted around him.  Just for today.  He wasn’t missed.”

Emily nodded.  “Any other problems, Carlton?”

“No, all banked up and tucked in.  We’ll be ready to measure right after Christmas.”

“Good.  So, we’ll see you all at the dinner, then.”

Oh, yes, they’d all be there!

“What about you, ma’am?  We heard …”

“On the mend, Carlton, on the mend.”  Emily said removing her right mitten.  She stepped forward to the table and reached for Dreyfus’ brandy.  “Wind at your back, gentlemen.”  Raised the glass and drained it.

“Aye, and to you ma’am.” And the men emptied their glasses.

“Alright, Sinclair! Let’s go and let these fellows do their job.”  Emily turned for the door as Dreyfus stood up.  She stopped and turned back around.

“Any sign of our badger?”

“No, ma’am.  We’re too far away.  He’s still up after Argus’ chickens.”

“Not for long,” Emily said to no one in particular and turned back to the door.   

You can read more about Dreyfus and Emily’s Christmas adventure here.

The Funeral

Jordyn Janet Montrose was buried on a spring afternoon in a Midlands village when the sun was warm, the clouds were puffy white and crocuses ruled the fields and pathways.  She was sixteen.  The church was old enough to have seen Montroses before – weddings, christenings and funerals – and big enough to hold the entire family.  And there was room for family friends as well.  (JJ’s own school friends were in Italy, trying to understand grief with carefully placed flowers, candles and teddy bears.)  It was a small village and everyone knew the family, so besides grandparents and cousins, there were a grocer, a gardener, a number of others and Ms. Janet Miller, Lady Perry-Turner and Dreyfus Sinclair — who all sat near the front.  Plus, there was an older gentleman who sat by himself at the back.

The service was well-appointed — without a flaw — until Ms. Miller’s eulogy stumbled over a memory and she started to cry.  Dreyfus guided her back to her seat, and Lady Perry-Turner ad-libbed the rest, finishing with a like-mother/like-daughter story that tempered the mood.  Then, with two fingers, she kissed the sky and went back to her place.  There was a poem and a prayer and the vicar thanked everyone on behalf of the family, and then everyone stood and waited their turn to leave.

At the door, JJ’s parents, Monica and James, who were too young for this (Monica was only 32) stood like duty — accepting without hearing the sympathies and condolences.  There were a few hugs and some wooden handshakes but no more tears.  They were for later when everyone had gone and the doors were firmly closed.  Monica pulled Janet aside and clung to her arm, James thanked Dreyfus too much and wouldn’t let go of his hand, and Emily stood awkwardly until he did.  Then the two of them walked a short distance away and waited as Mr. And Mrs. Montrose went through the motions – numb with loss.  The last person out was the older gentleman who stopped, leaned down and spoke solemnly for a few sentences.  As he spoke, he took Monica’s hand, placed it in James’ and patted them together.  Then he turned and walked the several steps to where Emily and Dreyfus were standing.  He reached inside his jacket and brought out a crinkled package of foreign cigarettes and offered it to Emily.  There was a second of hesitation.  He shook the package.

“Go on, then.”

Emily selected one, straightened it slightly, and Michael Elliott produced an old-fashioned silver lighter and flicked it into flame.  He cupped his hands out of old habit and Emily leaned forward.  “Cheers,” she said, exhaling.

Michael lit one for himself and leaned his head back, blowing smoke into the sky.

“Family liaison officer,” he answered, without a question.  “Keeping the family aware of the progress of the investigation.”

Dreyfus almost laughed.  Michael Elliott prowled the halls of power; he didn’t wander the shires reassuring the locals.

“And how is the investigation progressing?”  Dreyfus’ tone betrayed his disbelief.

Michael Elliott ignored him.

“Actually, I was able to inform the Montroses that, working with the Italian authorities, we were able to identify the men who injected their daughter with heroin, but unfortunately, they were killed by British law enforcement officers while resisting arrest.  It was in a villa just north of Florence.  You might be familiar with it.”

Dreyfus did smile at that.  Michael pointed a finger.

“Don’t,” he said, slyly. “Your little adventure stirred a few pots that were best left alone.  The Italians are particularly keen that no one thinks they can make a meal of this.  So …”  Michael shrugged. “… we need to make certain everyone sticks to the script.”

There was a pause.

“Leave Janet alone, Michael.”  Emily said cautiously.

Michael Elliott tapped his cigarette.

The pause was thicker.  Dreyfus chuckled softly to break the mood.

“You didn’t leave hearth and home to have a quiet chat with Ms. Miller, Michael.  She’s perfectly fine, and you know it.”

Behind him, the people from the church were thinning, walking away or going to their cars.  Michael took another inhale from his cigarette and, as was his habit, twisted the burning end off and stepped on the embers.

“I won’t be going to the reception.  Give my regrets to the Montroses.  Duty calls and all that.”  He twisted the cigarette butt in his fingers – flakes of tobacco falling to the ground. “Officially, the drug network that killed that girl has been dismantled and the perpetrators are – uh – gone.  Everyone is satisfied and the case is closed.”

Dreyfus’ eyebrows showed sceptic.  Michael smiled and put the tiny, wadded cigarette paper in his jacket pocket.

“But I’ve always thought it was good practice to let the villains know that Her Majesty’s government has sharp claws and won’t tolerate the killing,” Michael turned his head slightly towards Emily, “or kidnapping — of British citizens …”

Suddenly, Dreyfus understood.

“And you’re here because some of those big bad boys are watching.”

Michael tilted his head without agreeing.

“At the moment I have two Albanians scared witless that some licensed-to-kill somebody is going to come and finish the job, and they’re telling anyone who’ll listen their sordid little tale.  It helps that I’ve taken a personal interest in their dilemma.”  Michael lifted his hand to signal his driver, then pointed his finger at Dreyfus, “You’re not to go near the Kovaci brothers.  Are we clear on that?”

Dreyfus opened his palms.  Emily dropped her cigarette on the ground and crushed it angrily with her toe.

“For God sake, you two!  This is a funeral.  Can’t it wait?”

Caught by surprise, both men stammered to apologise (perhaps explain) but Emily was already gone, walking the few steps back to Monica and Janet and poor lost James.  In their world, a young girl’s death was sad and senseless – not a tactic.  And as much as Emily didn’t know about … she stopped and looked past her friends to the quiet, old stone church … on that day, she knew more than she wanted to.