TWO SIMON GRANT MYSTERIES
HIDING THE ELEPHANT – Chapter 34
It was April 1973 and Simon was seventeen. On Easter Monday it was raining like hell inOxford, pelting the windows and the glass of the derelict, leaking rooftop conservatory. Rudi liked the flat, it was conveniently above a laundrette which he hardly ever used, five minutes from anywhere and dirt cheap.
‘Or just dirt,’ said Simon and set about cleaning the kitchen covered in solidified layers of dust and grease left behind by the previous tenants over five years ago.
‘Absolute waste of time, dear boy. Never use it,’ Rudi mildly protested from the door. He wore his twenty-eight years of age as if they were three score and ten. And then some. ‘Wouldn’t have the foggiest how to switch on half of those things here.’
There wasn’t much to switch on. A cooker, gas and with only two rings working, a toaster that yielded a pile of burnt, caked-up crumbs and a yellow plastic-coated paperclip when Simon turned it over and shook vigorously. There was also a kettle, sticky to touch but operational even if it did spurt boiling water all over the stained, once white worktop.
The fridge, hand-painted deep green and peeling on the outside, was spotless on the inside. Rudi kept his photographic chemicals there, a variety of semi-transparent plastic bottles with purple, yellowish and white coloured liquid in them, all neatly labelled and lined up by type and size.
‘How can you bring birds back into this place, Rudi? They must take one look at it, nay, just one sniff must be enough to turn them back on their stiletto heels.’
Rudi was making pathetic attempts to soften the remaining stiff ends of a bald, dark grey mop in a bucketful of soapy water. ‘Birds? I don’t, I mean I never… Not much into girls, dear boy. Not into boys either, nothing like that. The old pecker, you know, not doing much. Never has.’ The Americanism was probably meant to soften the crudity. Rudi was the only rugby player Simon had never heard use a four letter word.
The puddle on the floor was spreading star shaped, with one end running faster that the rest, pointing towards Simon’s feet.
‘You’re meant to squeeze the excess water off first, you fool.’ he abandoned the piece of dubious sponge he was using to clean the sink, and snatched the mop out of Rudi’s hands. It was impossible to imagine waking up without a hard on, or looking at a woman, any woman, without wondering what it would be like. And what do you talk with your mates about unless it’s birds?
‘You’re still a rugby legend at school, Rudi. There isn’t an event goes by that your name doesn’t get mentioned. Reverently.’ Simon’s logic was impeccable. The rugby boys had the best choice of girls. The choice of best girls. At the time that was the same thing.
‘Not doing much of that these days either. Gone to flab, old boy. Doesn’t bother me.’
Simon passed the mop back to his brother. ‘You may be better off that way. Women are nothing but trouble. You have to go through all that courtship nonsense before you get anywhere. I say, Rudi, do you think I could change my law course for something else? It’s not too late or anything, is it?’
In years to come Simon experienced it many times. The feeling that an invisible glass wall had materialised between him and the rest of the world.
The non-existent glass sheet distorted Rudi’s soft, loose outline, smudging it at the edges. ‘Have you cleared it with Adam? Or Eve?’ Coming from the other side of the glass sheet Rudi’s voice was quieter, more remote.
‘I just want to see what else’s out there. No big deal. I can’t even remember ever saying that I wanted to read law. But I must have done or else why would I have applied for it.’
‘Well, there you are then.’ Rudi thought that was a good time to push the mop that Simon had optimistically retuned into his keeping back into the obscurity behind the refrigerator. His burgundy red carpet slippers were soaking up a new puddle of dirty water under his feet. ‘You’ve been accepted, offered a place?’
‘Only conditionally. I still have to do my A Levels. I wish you’d stop shuffling about, Rudi.’
‘Sorry, old boy. Sorry. Just trying to find higher ground, so to speak. The water’s getting everywhere, I’m afraid. A Levels. Well, yes, quite. Not a problem, that, what?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘That’s all right, then.’ Rudi somehow became more solid, better defined again. The barrier between them had never existed. ‘Better not rock the boat.’
LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS – Chapter 34
‘Listen, the nightingale has returned,’ Eve said and stood still for a few moments. ‘Here.’ The warble had ceased and she placed a small, black metal tray with a bowl of soup, a tarnished silver spoon and a hand-torn lump of round homemade bread on his knees. ‘Sorrel.’
Suspiciously, Simon dipped a chunk of bread into the cold, muddy green liquid. His eyebrows shot up. ‘When have you learned to cook?’
‘She hasn’t.’ After the first few minutes of fussing and pacing about, Adam had made himself comfortable in a white leather recliner. Its modern design was at odds with the mixture of solid wood furniture ranging from a very expensive regency tallboy willed to Adam by a faithful and well-to-do follower, a couple of Chippendale chairs that came with a few other odds and ends left at the Farm by the previous owners, and an array of chests of drawers, small tables and a rather oddly designed armchair covered in wine red sack-like fabric, all obtained at the time when Portobello Road still catered for a much cheaper end of the market, and the Hamilton Grant income amounted to very little. ‘She doesn’t cook,’ Adam repeated. ‘Rasputin does the cooking.’
‘His name is Walter and he cooks beautifully,’ Eve answered calmly. ‘He does everything beautifully and without fuss. Unlike some people.’
‘He looks like a Rasputin, he dresses like a Rasputin and he sounds like a Rasputin. And he wields those long sharp knives and the cleaver like one as well,’ Adam stood his ground.
‘How intimately have you been acquainted with the original Mr. Rasputin, Father?’
Simon had nearly forgotten about Rudi. He’d put in an appearance some ten minutes after Simon’s arrival, nodded a few times as if he was looking at a self-fulfilling prophecy and busied himself with his mail at the small, feminine looking writing desk which was rumoured to contain a secret compartment but no amount of ingenious searching in the past had ever revealed one.
‘Cheek,’ said Adam. ‘Let the show commence.’
At that Eve sat into the wine coloured armchair, prim and straight-backed. Age had given her grace. Even beauty. What had once been gawky and oversized became bony and streamlined. The loose, full-length oatmeal gown made of coarse wool and the nearly completely grey waist-long hair gathered in a casual coil at the nape gave her a regal look.
Adam swivelled his recliner in Simon’s direction and they both looked at him as if someone had just raised the curtain on a stage.
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