Minimal financial support from his hard working parents, enabled Arnold to spend three long years attending university lectures and writing assignments. It was a cheerless time. Lack of money enforced an abstemious lifestyle that denied him the usual student social life of drunkenness and compliant females. Stoically, he accepted his lot and compensated for the lack of social interaction by indulging in many long, gratifying hours of self-pleasure.
His reward, a second-class economics degree that, he assured his long-suffering parents, would open the doors to professional employment and an early repayment of the relatively vast sums they had squandered on his education.
However, after traipsing for weeks from one Professional office tower to another, clutching his diploma, the sole job offer had been two hundred dollars cash for a week of sexual excess at the country hideaway of the personnel manager of an insurance broker.
At the urging of his parents, Arnold negotiated a substantially higher fee and, with two other equally young and desirable young men, spent seven pleasurable days and nights satisfying the lusts of a score or so well-to-do businessmen. Returning home, he discovered the house had been sold, and a note from his parents explaining they had moved to a cheap retirement village in warmer climes while they still had sufficient funds.
Fortunately, several of Arnold’s clients recommended him to similarly inclined members of their clubs, and thus, an attractive body, pleasant face, come-to-bed voice and perfect table manners, proved to be more useful than a university degree. Determined to provide value for money, and having learned the trick of withholding orgasm for as long as he [or his client] chose, he soon collected an impressive stable of delighted, wealthy, middle-aged males prepared to pay for quality.
A dozen years of frugal living, to which he was well accustomed, and fruitful professional employment, enabled Arnold to buy a small apartment and accumulate a healthy nest egg. The only thing he lacked was respectability. This desire to be considered well bred and honourable, eroded his pleasure to such an extent that one evening he broke his no-kissing rule and brushed lips with Kenneth, his wealthiest and least unattractive client.
Gently, lovingly, and so disturbingly sexy was the experience, that the fifty-five year old bachelor branch manager of a minor bank, discovered he was in love with his thirty-two-year-old rent boy and shyly asked if he would give up all other clients to become his well-paid personal secretary.
Tongues wagged, of course, and Arnold soon discovered he was still not respectable. Undaunted, he embarked on a subtle campaign of hints and innuendo that resulted in Kevin’s offer of a registry office marriage, witnessed by a dozen acquaintances. On returning from their honeymoon, however, Arnold discovered to his chagrin, that marital respectability had not stopped malicious gossip, but it had stopped his salary. In vain did Kenneth explain that as Arnold was now a husband, he was no longer an employee, so the secretarial salary became an unnecessary expense.
‘Unnecessary for whom?’
‘Me, of course.’
‘What about me?’
‘You, me… we are one, beloved. What’s yours is mine and what's mine will support us both.’
‘But what will I do for money?’ Arnold asked.
‘You have everything you need, my love. You are certainly not poor, with all those blue chip bonds and debentures I advised you to purchase with your savings and the sale of your apartment.’
‘That’s for my old age and emergencies. I need cash for impulse buying.’ He glared at Kenneth who smiled benignly back. ‘Well then,’ Arnold sniffed petulantly, ‘I’ll have to go back to work. There’s a good spot just south of the railway station that should provide plenty of clients.’
‘No, no, my darling,’ Kenneth interrupted hastily. ‘You misunderstand. I’ve arranged a debit card for you in case you want to buy yourself a treat.’
‘A debit card?’ Wide eyed in shock, voice dripping with contempt, Arnold asked coldly, ‘Attached to whose account?’
‘I opened a special one, just for you.’
‘How much is in it?’
‘Fifty dollars! Golly, how will I spend it all? It’s nearly enough for a hamburger and coffee… you are far too generous!’
‘Please don’t be like that. If you need more just ask and I’ll top it up.’
‘With enough to buy a begging dish?’ Arnold stormed out leaving Kenneth twitching nervously, wondering what he had done wrong.
To the casual observer—if there had been one, their life hadn't changed. But to Arnold and Kenneth everything had changed. Arnold developed headaches when Kenneth pleaded for his matrimonial dues. Kenneth became forgetful when asked to top up the debit card. Arnold started going for evening walks in the park where clients clustered around nubile boys aged from twelve to sixteen. Despite a remarkably trim, fit body and unlined face, Arnold was relegated to the untouchables waiting morosely at the park gates in the hope of snaring those the youths had rejected. But the reward was low and the risk high, so he renewed his acquaintance with Kenneth’s bed and body.
Delighted at the return to previous bliss, Kenneth relented and gave Arnold a credit card attached to his main account. The following week, though, Kenneth’s delight turned to anger; he had been transferred to his hometown branch.
‘What's wrong with it? It’s a bigger bank, higher salary.’
‘And it is in the town in which I grew up. A disgusting hole I haven't visited for thirty-seven years. I’m known there. The kids who beat me up in high school will be waiting to finish me off…’
‘They’ll have forgotten all about you.’
‘Well I haven't forgotten. Thirty-seven years and it seems like yesterday. And reliable sources tell me the town is even more bigoted, religious, homophobic and racist than when I lived there.’
‘Don’t be such a wimp. We’ll be role models for all the young gays.’
‘No we will not! I do not want to get beaten to death by the grandchildren of the bastards who used to shove my head in the toilet and flush after pissing on me. So you have to swear that you will never tell anyone by word or gesture that we are married. That I'm… queer!’
‘I swear,’ Arnold chirruped sweetly, ‘and please, sweetheart, remove the spending limit on my credit card. It makes me feel as if you don’t love me.’
Kenneth, lightheaded from fear, and rash from relief that Arnold was amenable, agreed. ‘Thanks for being so understanding Arnold. You do understand, don’t you? A gay bank manager in that town? Everyone would withdraw their deposits.’
‘I fully understand, Kenneth, and will be the soul of secretarial discretion.’ Arnold pecked him sweetly on the cheek before turning away to conceal a victorious smile.
The move was effortless. The new house perfect. A large and comfortable living area separated two similar bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. One for the bank manager, the other for his secretary. The new job was equally ideal. It took several weeks, but eventually Kenneth began to relax and had just decided life was good when a quick check of his personal account balance sent him into a tailspin.
‘Where has all the money gone!’ he shrieked—softly in case the neighbours heard.
‘On essentials,’ Arnold shrugged. ‘My new car was a tad expensive, but you don’t want your secretary driving something cheap, do you? And there's my new wardrobe. And I've booked a flight to…’
‘Stop, stop. Stop! We can’t live like that. Throwing money around. You must…’
‘Don’t worry, Kenneth, there’s plenty more. I checked the balance. I'm surprised you even noticed.’
Kenneth replaced the credit card with the previous debit regime, and became tetchy and unpleasant at work, alienating his staff. When at home, he wandered the house, tight-lipped and silent—unable to settle.
Arnold continued to keep the place neat and prepare breakfast and other meals as required; they even ate together—but of intimacy there was none. He began spending whole days away with a few acquaintances who appeared to have no home to go to. One Saturday morning he took off as usual, but a sudden urge to think about his life made him stop the car a couple of blocks down the road. He always thought best when walking, so got out, locked the car doors and wandered aimlessly through leafy suburbs; mind roaming freely.
‘The situation is ridiculous, and so am I,’ he told himself. ‘If Kenneth hadn't taken me off the streets I'd still be whoring—at my age for the price of a hamburger if I was lucky. Or maimed or dead from gay bashers; like the poor bugger in the park last week. I’d have squandered my savings and… He’s treated me pretty well, if I'm honest. But I've been just as good to him! It hasn’t been all one way. A wife would have cost him far more. And I've been a faithful spouse; kept the house and garden spick and span. I've nothing to be ashamed of.’ His sigh was that of the true martyr. ‘But one of us has to eat humble pie and restore sanity to the situation.’
He stopped, looked around, and was surprised to discover he was standing at his own back door. Fuelled by visions of a tearful reunion in which Kenneth lavished him with gifts for returning to the connubial fold, he opened the door, slipped off his shoes and padded along the carpeted hallway towards his husband’s study.
Voices. Kenneth was speaking to someone. Arnold edged closer and peered between the hinges of the open door. Kenneth was on the landline telephone, sounding impatient.
‘I've tried every Internet search possible and come up with nothing. I know he isn't dead because I've checked those records too. Please, he’s an old school friend, I’m in town for only a few hours, and I desperately need to speak to him. I beg you, tell me his phone number…. Yes, that’s right. Edgar Charles, forty-two Deadfish drive…. Yes, of course you must phone first and ask him if he wants me to know his number… my name is Kenneth Millar, we were at school together…. Yes, I’ll wait… He agrees? That's great... Yes, I've written the number down, thanks so much. You're an angel.’ Kenneth replaced the receiver, sighed, took a swig of brandy from the bottle beside him, then picked up the phone and pressed some buttons.
‘Is that you, Edgar? It’s Ken… Kenneth Millar… Of course you know me! Kinky Ken from school!.... Yes, it’s really me…. You don’t sound any older either.… You’ve no idea the trouble I had getting your number…. Yes I have your address, but I didn’t want to land on your doorstep without warning. You might have decided you didn’t want to know me after… Yes, after all that, and emptied your shotgun into me…. Ha ha. I thought as much.… Well I'm glad you’ve changed your mind. How are you? Still doing everything by the clock? Breakfast at six, garden at seven, maintenance at eight, swim in your waterhole at nine, and a visit to the local store precisely at ten…. Ha, ha.… yes, I used to call you the clockwork man.... Good, good. Pleased to hear that.… Me? Not so good…. Yes, you're right as usual, I've an ulterior motive as well as a genuine desire to see you again…I've got myself lumbered with a younger man I need to offload. He’ll make me a pauper if I don’t…. No, no, no. He’s a nobody. Dumb as shit.… Yes, that would seem best, except he blackmailed me into marriage, so if we divorce he’ll get half of everything—and that’s not going to happen…. You know bloody well why I'm ringing you. It’s thanks to me you got shot of that bitch of a wife, so I'm giving you the chance to even the score…. No, I'm not blackmailing you, Edgar, just asking for a little assistance to shift a problem.… As soon as possible… Okay. I’ll be knocking on your door at two o'clock Monday afternoon. That’ll give you a full day to think about ways and means. Yes, I’ll be discreet. And thanks, Edgar. See you Monday. Thanks…. Bye…. yeah don’t worry.… bye.’
Arnold crept back the way he’d come, returned to his car and drove to the nearest Internet café. This was not the time to put any information on his personal electronic devices, which, he realised, was why Kenneth had been using the landline.
By the time he returned home he had a printout of satellite images of Edgar’s property and the surrounding countryside, and the germ of an idea.
Arnold’s Sunday was spent making a reconnaissance of Edgar’s property—several hectares of forest abutting a National Park. The map showed a Park maintenance road that followed the boundary, so he drove along it until he judged he was as near as possible to the waterhole Kenneth had mentioned on the phone, parked and forced his way through several hundred metres of woodland until he reached a narrow stream. He leaped across, turned right and made his way upstream until he was standing at the outlet of a large pool overhung by ancient trees.
Deep, limpid water the colour of weak tea, reflected leafy treetops and patches of blue sky. A jagged outcrop of ochreous sandstone about three metres high and wide on the right bank of the pool, was a perfect counterpoint to the leafy surroundings. On its flat top, a large monitor lizard lay sunbathing. A parrot squawked in the forest. Something rustled in the undergrowth and Arnold’s grin threatened to split his face. This was the secret forest pool of his dreams, illuminated by shafts of sunlight that rendered deep forest shadows mysterious, timeless, complete.
He took a deep breath of air rich in moisture and the fertile tang of humus, holding it to prevent the dream shattering. A full minute later he exhaled with a soft, self-conscious laugh, then pushed through scratchy undergrowth around the pool to the sandy beach where he gazed around in delight, unwilling to leave. With a sigh for all the wasted years living in cities, he turned and followed a track away from the water. After about twenty paces the forest ended and the track was replaced by a short gravel path leading to a wooden gate and the cottage garden. For it was a cottage, not a house. Single storeyed, steeply roofed with gingerbread fretwork, shuttered windows wide open for the breeze, surrounded by a narrow lawn and flower gardens in full bloom. Where was the Wicked Witch?
He looked around cautiously. It was twenty past eight, so Edgar would be doing maintenance somewhere. A hammer was being used away to his right where he thought the hens were housed, so he made a quick circuit of the small, neat dwelling, approving the privacy, admiring the ornamental garden at the front, and extensive vegetable gardens and orchard at the rear. No dogs or cats, but several feeding platforms for wild birds. From his study of the maps he knew the rest of the property was dense forest that would be difficult to penetrate.
The hammering stopped so he hastened back through the gate to the sandy beach, spent several minutes seeking a suitable place where he could see but not be seen, then settled to wait, hoping Edgar really did live by the clock and would soon be here for his swim. If he had to wait too long he’d be sucked dry by mosquitoes.
At two minutes to nine Edgar arrived and removed his overall to reveal a lean, tanned body that looked fit and tough, the opposite of doughy, pale, Kenneth.
He must be in his fifties, Arnold realised, but if you cut his head off you'd swear he was nearly as young as me.’ Edgar had an interesting head. Of normal size, but everything on it seemed too big—jaw, nose, mouth, eyes. Not ugly, but not handsome either. Arnold liked looking at him and wanted to know what he was thinking. What sort of person lived where he did, was so organised, and owned this perfect spot.
After a dozen stretches, Edgar belly flopped into the pool, swam around aimlessly for several minutes, then disappeared around the back of the sandstone outcrop, reappearing seconds later on top where he shooed the lizard away and took its place, sprawled on his back in the dappled sunlight.
Not daring to move, Arnold put up with ants and mosquitoes for another half hour before he was able to return to his car. The rest of the day he kept to his room, going over every possible scenario and jerking off at the memory of that lean, bronzed body stretched over the rock.
Kenneth spent Sunday wiping every negative reference to Arnold, including details of his spending, from all his electronic devices. By sunset he was certain that anyone going through his computer would imagine a life of connubial bliss. That evening he dined with acquaintances from the Professional Club, determined not to think about what he intended to do. He certainly did not want to see Arnold. He had to think of him as simply another poisonous toad to eradicate.
The following morning at nine precisely, Edgar trotted along the path to the pool, head heavy from lack of sleep. Bloody Kenneth. Try as he might he couldn’t think of any way to assist him. And he didn’t want to kill anyone! Certainly not an innocent guy. Living for a few years with kinky Ken must have been purgatory. The utter bastard, turning up after all these years and reminding him of his wife’s timely demise. Of course it was blackmail. But Edgar had had a bloody good reason for removing his wife. He had no reason whatever for assisting Kenneth to do the same to his husband. It was too stupid. But if he didn’t do it… Kenneth would make sure he suffered. Perhaps a swim would clear his head.
He stopped at the sandy beach, stripped, did a few stretching exercises, then just as he was about to dive in, a movement sent his eyes to the rock on the other side of the pool. Sprawled on his stomach on the smooth stone top lay a young man, drying his wet brown limbs luxuriously in the sun. His wet hair, parted by a recent dive, lay close to his head, and his light brown eyes, so light that there was an almost tigerish gleam in them, were turned towards Edgar with a certain lazy watchfulness. It was an unexpected apparition and for once Edgar found himself thinking before immediately shouting at the fellow to get off his property. Where did he come from? How did he find the pond? Who the fuck was he?
The young man rolled slowly over onto his back, and laughed pleasantly.
The intrusion of a naked male into Edgar’s precious forest sanctuary triggered unhappy memories, and therefore anger. Despite the fellow’s sleek attractiveness this was not to be tolerated. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he snarled. ‘This is private property! Clear off!’
Like a flash, the fellow dived into the water, and a moment later was on the beach, his wet and glistening body thrusting against Edgar’s. They were the same height. For an instant their eyes locked. He laughed again, then suddenly darted away, disappearing into the forest.
A feeling of loss enveloped Edgar. ‘Why the fuck was I so rude?’ he muttered angrily. ‘He looked okay. Very okay. He wasn’t doing any harm. Perhaps he was looking for work. I could do with a hand to rebuild the sagging verandah.’
He dived in and swam for a bit, but there was no pleasure in it, so he picked up his overalls and trudged back to the house, muttering, grumbling, cursing his quick temper. After tossing the overalls into the laundry basket, he went to the kitchen not bothering to dress, turned the hot water jug on, placed a cup and saucer, teapot, milk jug and two pieces of shortbread on a tray, poured the boiling water into the pot, then carried the tray into the lounge, where for the second time in half an hour, surprise rendered him speechless.
Gracefully sprawling over the sofa, in an attitude of almost exaggerated repose, was the young man from the pool. He was drier than when Edgar had last seen him, but that was the only change.
Despite a determined effort to speak calmly, Edgar’s ‘Why are you here?’ sounded accusatory.
‘You told me I was not to stay at the pool.’
An involuntary guffaw from Edgar triggered an enchanting smile from his visitor, who, Edgar realised, was not as young as he’d thought, and therefore even more attractive.
‘Fancy a cup of tea?’
‘I’ll get another cup.’ he returned seconds later. ‘Milk and sugar?’
‘Just milk, thanks.’
Edgar poured. They sat silently and sipped, gazing speculatively at each other over the rims of their teacups.
A large sigh. ‘Apologies for shouting at you at the pond. Habit. Local kids sometimes come and fuck their girlfriends, leaving condoms, shit, bottles and tins. Several times they’ve lit camp fires.’
‘I understand. It was a bit rude on my part just appearing like that. The thing is I need to talk with you about something important, but first I wanted to see what sort of chap you are.’
‘And have you seen?’
‘So? What sort of chap am I?’
‘Sexy and independent and interesting and your bark’s worse than your bite.’
‘You're pretty sexy yourself.’
‘Thanks.’ Arnold cleared his throat, stood, then sat again and leaned forward. ‘The thing is, I’m Arnold, Kenneth’s husband, and I overheard him asking you to help him get rid of me. I took it to mean murder. Was I right?’
‘Yes.’ Edgar sat back and looked at Arnold in disbelief. ‘How on earth did kinky Ken manage to snare a gorgeous hunk like you?’
‘I was on the game for years, got sick of it, so talked him into taking me on as his personal secretary.’ He grinned.
Edgar laughed. ‘And then?’
‘I talked him into marriage, thinking…’ he shrugged and smiled winsomely, causing Edgar’s heart to blip dangerously. ‘I guess I just wanted to feel respectable—like a decent person instead of trash.’
‘What went wrong?’
‘’He wanted me to use my savings to live on after we married, but that’s my security for old age, so while I still had a credit card attached to his account, I spent up big.’
‘Wouldn’t hurt him, he’s loaded.’
‘I know, that’s the main reason I went to live with him in the first place.’
‘That’s honest.’ Edgar sniffed, frowned, and stared out the window. ‘So, what’s to be done?’
‘I was going to ask you that.’
‘Well, you're not going to die.’
‘That’s a relief.’
‘Have you considered topping him?’
‘If he just wanted you to suffer, then I’d say man up and face it, but he wants you dead so he can be single again. Marriage is a two edged sword. Divorce would cost him half his ill-gotten gains, so you have to go. And he’s using blackmail to force me to help him. Does he deserve to live?’
‘Good. That means we’re on the same page and all we have to do is work out ways and means. What’s the time?’ Edgar popped his head round the kitchen door. ‘Half past ten according to the microwave. Kenneth will be here in three and a half hours. Do you want to face him?’
‘No way. He’ll crawl out of it. Say it was a joke and I was the nasty one listening to his conversations. Then in a few weeks he’ll get a sniper to pick me off. I read there are hundreds of guys willing to top people for a fee now it’s easy to buy telescopic snipers’ rifles with untraceable bullets.’
‘Doesn’t surprise me.’ Edgar stood and offered his hand.
Arnold took it, they shook, and in a sudden rush of relief, Arnold wrapped his arms around Edgar’s chest and sobbed softly. ‘Sorry, Edgar. I was trying to be cool, but I was so frightened. Didn’t know what to do. I just…’
Edgar gently stroked Arnold’s hair, back and buttocks. ‘I understand. You’ve been very brave. Come on, let’s go for a stroll around the garden and see the hens. They're bloody good listeners and if I tell them my problems they usually suggest sensible solutions.’
Two hours later, Kenneth parked his car on the gravelled driveway in front of Edgar’s house, got out, sniffed disdainfully at the herbaceous border, shook his fist at a tame magpie begging for food, and hammered on the door.
‘You're on time,’ Edgar said softly from behind a hedge he’d been clipping.
Kenneth jumped. ‘Don’t do that!’
‘Okay, but have you decided what you want to do?’
‘That’s your department. I had the ideas last time.’
Edgar nodded thoughtfully. ‘Well I do have an idea. Come with me and we’ll discuss it.’
‘You're going to drown him?’
‘Perhaps, but first I’ll invite you both here for lunch. You’ll introduce us, and after a light meal I’ll suggest we go for a swim. I assume your bloke likes swimming?’
‘Yes, he's a fitness freak.’
‘Good. So he’ll be up for it. When we’re there, I reckon we can stage an accident that will never be questioned. But it will take both of us, so we’ll go there now and I’ll show you what I mean. Afterwards, you can suggest modifications.’
‘My shoes are not made for getting wet.’
‘They're not going to get wet, you are. Come on.’
Two minutes later they were standing side by side on the sandy beach, looking across at the large rock. Edgar pointed to the base. ‘See that shelf jutting out just under the water?’
‘I think so… Yes.’
‘It’s quite wide, so divers have to give a good push up and out to avoid hitting it.You'll say you want a photo of whatshisname standing on the rock. So he climbs up. You suggest a few poses, finishing with one that makes him lean out a bit. While you're distracting him, I’ll climb silently up behind him, and shove him just enough to tip him over the edge. With a bit of luck he’ll smash his head on the submerged ledge.’
‘But it might not kill him.’
‘We don’t want it to. He has to drown. So as soon as he falls, I’ll leap in and, if he’s still conscious, smash his head on the ledge again, to knock him out so he doesn't struggle, then hold his head under to make sure his lungs are full of water and the autopsy doesn’t show he was killed before he entered the water.’
‘It’s getting complicated.’
‘No it isn't. You see, no one will believe the hit on the head killed him, but they will believe that in a semi conscious state he rolled over, sucked in water and drowned.’
‘And so you should be. But we have to go through everything carefully to make sure we haven’t forgotten some simple thing, such as can I get silently behind him on the rock.’
‘Fair enough. What do you want me to do?’
‘You stand on the rock while I make sure my part is possible.’
‘I’m not going up there.’
‘Then I’m not going to help you.’
‘Okay, if I must. But how do I get there?’
‘Strip off and swim. You can swim, can’t you?’
‘Then come on.’
They stripped, Edgar relieved that Kenneth kept his underpants on, then they swam across to the rocky ledge, from which they stepped onto the shore.
‘Okay, let’s get you up there so you can pretend to be your husband. What’s he like by the way?’
‘Very ordinary. Rather common, in fact. Can’t understand why I married him.’ Kenneth shook himself as if wanting to dislodge something unpleasant. ‘Okay, let’s get it over with. But how do I get up there?’
The rear of the rock sloped back into the forest, making it easy to climb. Kenneth walked gingerly up and stood a cautious distance from the edge, gazing over the sandy beach to the path and freedom. ‘Lucky I've got bare feet, it’s a bit slippery.’ He looked nervously around. ‘Where are you?’
‘Right behind you.’
‘Fuck, you nearly gave me a heart attack. Didn’t notice you.’
‘That's excellent. Means I can do it. Okay, now to stage two. Stay here and I’ll go back to the little beach and pretend I'm you.’ Without waiting for a reply Edgar dived from the rock, swam across and stood on the sand.
Kenneth relaxed. He did not trust Edward standing behind him.
‘Right, Ken. Go back a couple of paces, then wander up to the edge, I’ll pretend I have a camera, and we’ll see if there's anything we missed.’
Kenneth sauntered to the front, unjustifiably proud of his daring, adopting a string of what he imagined were sexy poses, before standing bravely near the edge and asking, ‘Have we finished?’
Edgar suddenly clutched at his chest, gave a soft moan and collapsed onto the sand.
‘Edgar! Are you alright? Kenneth called taking an involuntary step forward and wobbling precariously. A foot slipped, he wobbled further, gave a high-pitched squeak, then with arms flailing ineffectually, turned slowly in the air and with an audible splash-thump, the top of his head smashed into the submerged rocky ledge.
Arnold jumped in after him, saw he was breathing but unconscious, so gently held him underwater until a long string of bubbles escaped the open mouth and the body slowly sank.
‘Well, that was easy,’ Edgar said as he hauled a wet and shaking Arnold onto the beach. ‘You didn’t even have to push him.’
‘No it was not easy,’ Arnold whispered. ‘I…I killed him.’
‘Rubbish! He was careless and fell. You simply put him out of his misery. Come on.’
Ten minutes later, now neatly and casually dressed, Edgar and Arnold were on the verandah, seated at an elegant antique table set for three, with Edgar’s best silver teapot and milk jug, silver teaspoons, bone China teacups he’d inherited from his great grandmother, and plates on which were arranged delicate little homemade cream cakes.
‘When you’ve stopped shaking, we’ll discover the body and call the cops. Meanwhile, repeat our story.
‘Sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about what I’ve done.’
‘If you could, would you undo it?’
Edgar laughed. ‘Get on with it then.’
Arnold managed a smile and cleared his throat. ‘As you hadn’t seen your dear friend Kenneth for so long, you invited us for lunch to celebrate your reunion and Kenneth’s marriage. After lunch, we all went for a swim. You and I came back to prepare afternoon tea, but Kenneth wanted to stay for a few more minutes. He was a useless diver but loved leaping from the rock. We became worried, went to find him and there he was, just under the surface. I tried CPR and mouth to mouth, but it was too late. Terrible shock. Feel sick. Everything was going so well, new town…’
‘Yes, yes,’ Edgar interrupted. ‘You're not on stage. The less you tell them the less they have to trip you up on. Keep it to the absolute minimum. Genuinely upset people sometimes never speak at all, they're too shocked. You can always tell if someone’s lying because they overreact, imagining it will be more convincing. Aim for silent shock that has left you devoid of feeling. Slight incoherence. That's the trick. Definitely not trying to convince them of anything! Can you manage that?’
They practiced, and Arnold could, and the cops were convinced, and Arnold, who had fallen in love with the house, garden, hens, forest and pool, easily convinced Edgar, who had fallen in love with Arnold and his newly inherited fortune, that they should share the gingerbread cottage and… everything else.
During their thirty-one years together, both men discovered the bliss of loving companionship and uncomplicated sex, and Arnold discovered that if he kept busy with useful, productive work, and avoided everyone who didn’t share his values, then everything he did was respectable.