Funny Business Chapter 5, A Welcome Interlude
Samantha Michelle Davies (SamanthaMD)
[Three Weeks Later on a Train from Paris to London]
“I forgot to ask if you had booked a hotel for us in London”, said Charlie as the Eurostar train sped through the Department de la Somme, the scene of some of the bloodiest battles in WW1.
Liz grinned at him.
“I didn’t even try”
“Why?” asked Charlie almost absentmindedly.
“Because I thought we might like a little break in the Country. We have been over here for almost a month now. Going from City to City and apart from the journeys between the cities, never being out in the Country”
“There was the trip to Perigord last week. That was the Country”
“Yeah, a bloody long day trip from Paris. No I mean stay in the country for a few days”
“Where did you have in mind?”
Liz smiled and touched her nose.
Charlie gave up and went back to reading his copy of the WSJ International Edition that he had bought at the Gare du Nord that morning.
Just over 90 minutes later, they disembarked from the train at St Pancras.
“This is hardly the ‘country’ is it” said Charlie as the walked along the platform.
“We are changing trains here. That is all”
“Where to next?”
“Why don’t you be a love and buy us two tickets to Wellingborough”
“Where on earth is that?”
“That way.” said Liz pointing north out of the station.
“I’ll meet you over there”, said Liz pointing at the statue of Sir John Betjeman.
Charlie went off to buy the tickets while Liz headed for a Car Rental Office.
Fifteen minutes later, Liz joined up with Charlie.
“Here you are. I was beginning to worry about where you had gone”
“I’m here now”
He looked up at the clock.
“There is a train leaving at 11. Come on”
They made the train without problem and soon it was heading north out of London.
“What’s in this place called Wellingborough”.
“Not a lot. Really nothing at all. We are going a bit further on, into Leicestershire. I think we deserve a decent meal, a pint of proper English beer and a break from cities”
“I suppose you have somewhere in mind”
“I do indeed. I only hope the people we are going to see won’t mind us crashing at their place for a few days”
“Would they have the room?”
“Room. Oh yes Charlie. They would most certainly have the room” replied Liz with a wry grin on her face.
The train arrived at Wellingborough right on time some 50 minutes after they had left St Pancras.
A chill easterly wind greeted them.
“It’s almost winter here now. I’d forgotten how cold those easterlies can get,” said Liz as they walked out of the station in search of their ‘Hire Car’.”
“Maybe we should have stayed in London and bought some winter clothes?”
“I’m sure we can borrow a few things”
Charles looked concerned.
“Don’t worry yourself silly Charles. The people we are going to meet won’t bite”
That didn’t placate him much. He was nervous about meeting Liz’s friends especially as it had been sprung on him like this.
Liz found their rental car at the far end of the Station Car Park. Without bothering to ask Liz got in the drivers side and waited for Charles to stow the luggage. Then she drove them North over the border into Leicestershire. The Bright winter sun compensated somewhat for the chilling wind.
Not long after they’d crossed the border, Liz turned off the main road and down a small side road.
“I hope you know where you are going?” said a slightly concerned Charles.
“Do I look as if I’m lost?”
He didn’t answer.
A few miles later they entered a village. There were fields & woods all around. Liz drove into the pub car park and pulled up.
“Just in time for Lunch and a pint” she said getting out of the car with a smile on her face.
A slightly bewildered Charles followed as Liz walked straight into the bar.
She went up to the bar and said
“Two pints of ‘Triple B’ please”
The barman who was filling a fridge with bottles stopped what he was doing and looked up at her.
Then he grinned.
“Liz! When did you get back?”
“Just now. How about those pints eh?”
The barman reached up above his head and pulled down a Pewter tankard. He carefully pulled a pint into it. He did the same with a clear glass.
“You did say two pints?”
“Yes. Bill I did”
Liz turned towards Charlie.
“Let me introduce Charlie. Rather, Charles Everett the 6th. Charlie, meet Bill otherwise known as Baron William George Edward Hardcastle, the 16th Earl of hereabouts.” Said Liz with a big grin on her face.
A clearly stunned Charlie stuck out his hand.
“Bill please, especially when I’m behind the bar. Only the Lord Chancellor calls me William but he is my Uncle”
He pushed the pints over the bar.
Liz picked up the tankard and took a great gulp.
When she put the tankard down, it was half empty.
“That’s a really nice pint Bill. It has been a long time since I’ve had one”
“Pleased to hear it. Notice how I’ve kept your Tankard?”
“I was rather hoping you would have”
She turned to Charlie.
“What’s up Charlie, cat got your tongue. Have a drink that might loosen it a little”
This was a Liz that was completely alien to him.
Nevertheless, he raised the glass and took a sip.
It was unlike any beer he had ever tasted before
“Liz said it would be different. It certainly is”
“That’s a nice pint alright”, said Bill.
He added, “Brewed less than 20 miles away in Oakham. Made with Barley I grew I might add”.
“What do you mean your Barley?” asked Charlie.
“He means, Barley grown on one of his farms”
Charlie looked bewildered.
Bill came to his rescue.
“Has she kept you in the dark then?”
Charlie nodded as he took another drink.
“That is typical of our Liz. She was always the joker”
“Now, now Bill, you exaggerate,” said Liz finishing her pint.
“How long are you planning on staying?”
“Until Monday or Tuesday if that is not too much trouble?”
“Perfect. No trouble at all. Kat will love to play hostess”
Then he turned to Charlie.
“Do you hunt Charlie?”
“I’ve been Duck hunting a few times”
“That’s not hunting. I mean on horse with dogs and all that?”
“No. It’s not the sort of thing we do on Long Island”
“You do ride don’t you?”
“Perfect. We have a meet on Saturday. You must join us”
“Don’t I need to be properly kitted out?”
“Don’t worry about that there will be something to fit you at home. If not then Kat will get something for you”
“Who’s Kat?” asked Charlie.
“Kat or Katherine is Bills wife. She is also Master of the Hunt. Not bad for someone who hails from South London”
“Shh Liz. Don’t let on. She’s the perfect country wife now. She’s even lost most of her accent”
“I’ll tell Charlie about how you two met sometime”
“Not my finest hour I’m afraid but it all turned out fine in the end”
“Any chance of something to eat? Do you still serve that Black Beef you raise so nicely?”
“We certainly do. I’ll get something rustled up. Why don’t you take a pew and I’ll bring over some more drinks in a moment. The lunch crowd will be in shortly”
“Thanks Bill” said Liz guiding Charlie towards what in American terms would be called a ‘booth’.
Once they sat down, Liz said,
“These really are old pews. They came from St Stephens years ago”
“I’m a bit lost here. Can you tell me just what happened in simple terms?”
“Bill is my oldest and dearest friend in the world. He & I go back a long way. We first met when I was 8 or 9. Can’t remember which. My father came to work as a gamekeeper on the estate. Bill & I were the same age so whenever Bill came home from school, we would play together. Great times”
“Was this before, you know what?”
“Oh, goodness me yes. Where was I? Oh yes, Bill is as you might have guessed ‘old money’. Really old money. His family have lived hereabouts since his ancestors came over the Channel in 1066”
“It this his job?”
“Four days a week it is. Unless the house is sitting and debating farming things. Then he’s down in London”
“So he’s an MP?”
“Oh dear no. He is not allowed by law to set foot inside the House of Commons. He is a peer of the Realm. He sits in the House of Lords. Chairs a couple of Committee as well”
She paused for a second.
“He runs a very successful food business from this sleepy part of the country”
“How can he if he works here?”
“Well, his team does. The HQ is a few miles away. Bill tells them the direction and the policies and leaves it up to them to produce results. He has a finger in many pies does Bill”
Just then Bill arrived with two more pints of beer.
“Has she been filling your head with my life story?”
“Don’t believe everything she says”
“Hey, I’m not telling any porkies”
“No, just being economical with the truth no doubt. Why don’t you let the poor man find out for himself over the weekend?”
“I’m sure you will bend his ear when the time comes” said Liz sheepishly.
“In the meantime, two Black Beef Steaks are being cooked as I speak”
Charlie took another slightly larger sip of his first pint.
“I can’t understand Bill. He is a Lord and all that yet he works behind a bar in a pub”
“This is his pub by the way. It is his name on the license over the door”
“I take it he is wealthy”
“Charles, that is not a question you should ever ask. Especially when ‘old money’ is concerned”
Then Liz leaned over and whispered.
“About half a bill at last time I heard but that was more than five years ago”
Charles looked astonished.
He was about to say something but Liz stopped him.
“Shh. Don’t say a word. I owe him a lot. He got me the job on the Mag. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be pushing up daisies somewhere by now”
Charlie noticed that Liz felt the scars on her left wrist as she said that last sentence.
Charles sat back in the former church pew and downed the remainder of his first pint of proper English Beer. Liz was proving to be a far more complicated person than he’d ever imagined.
They sat in relative silence until Bill appeared again carrying their Lunches.
“I hope you enjoy this”, said Bill as he put the plates down on the table.
“This looks great Bill”, remarked Liz.
“Same here” said Charles.
Bill left them to eat their meal.
“What’s this Black Beef?”
“Oh that. It is a rare breed of beef. Welsh Black Mountain is the name. Bill has a herd not far away”
Charles cut his first slice. Then he put the knife down and transferred the fork to his right hand and began to spoon it into his mouth.
“Charles. If might be nice to use a knife and fork properly at least while we are here in England”
“What do you mean?”
“Here let me show you. We hold the fork in the left hand. The knife is held in the right. And there they stay. None of this cutting a bit and then spooning it into your mouth with the fork held in the right hand”
“Oh! Force of habit I suppose?”
“Yeah and it marks you out as an American wherever you go”
“Well, I am. What is wrong with that?”
“Now about, ‘when in Rome etc’?”
“Ok. I’ll try”
“Good. Now how’s the beef”
“Really good” replied Charles in between mouthfuls.
“Good. I knew you would like it”
“It just falls apart in the mouth”
“That is why is it so good.”
“Then I’ll pay for lunch”
“If you try to put even an American Cent on the bar of this place, Bill will have great pleasure in throwing you out himself. He would be mightily offended if you even tried”
“We are his guests. Until we leave on Monday, you should forget about even thinking of opening your wallet. Besides, the moths inside would not appreciate being exposed to the cold”
It took Charlie a few seconds to get the joke.
“Hey, who paid for the train tickets today?” he said grinning.
“Who paid for the Eurostar tickets?”
“Ok. Ok. I get the point. We are guests”
“Good. Now enjoy the meal. Everything on your plate comes from within 10 miles of here”
Charlie was too engrossed in eating to bother answering.
They left the Pub just after 1:30pm after saying goodbye to Bill who was busy serving the lunchtime trade.
“What did you think of Bill?” asked Liz.
“You obviously love him”
“Love? What do you mean?”
“Sorry. More like a deep, deep friendship. You obviously have a deep affection for each other. Nothing sexual. More like a Brother & Sister”
Liz was quiet for a while.
“I’ve never thought about it like that but I suppose you are right”
She turned the car off the road, through some imposing Iron gates and up a long drive towards their destination.
“Is that where we are going?” asked Charlie pointing at the huge mansion that appeared over the fields in front of them.
“Yep. That’s it. Brockworth Hall. There was a Castle here before it. The ruins are in those trees to the right. That was built the year after the Magna Carta was signed.”
“Just a little history then?”
“Just a little”, said Liz as she parked the car in front of the house.
“Kat, or Katherine, is not what you would probably be expecting. Just keep your thoughts to yourself for a while ok? I’ve known her longer than she’s known Bill. She helped me at a difficult point in my life”
“Ok. Lead on MacDuff” said Charlie remembering a similar situation on Long Island.
They both had a smile on their faces as they walked up to the front door.
As they approached, the door was opened and out stepped a man wearing a very smart suit and a shirt with a winged collar.
“Miss Elizabeth. How nice it is to have you back. Mistress Katherine is expecting you. She’s in the Conservatory”
Liz went up to him and kissed him on the Cheek.
“Hello Perkins. Still not taken your pension then?”
“Not yet Miss Elizabeth”
“Perkins, this is my friend & colleague Charles Everett”
“Pleased to meet you Mr Everett”, said Perkins.
“Thank you Perkins”, said a very surprised Charlie.
Perkins stood aside and let them into the house.
“Miss Elizabeth, shall I take your bags to your room?”
“Yes please Perkins”
She gave him the key as they walked through the hallway.
Charles peered at the huge portraits hanging on the walls. A huge curved staircase led upstairs.
“This place is huge,” he whispered.
“Yes. Sixteen bedrooms”
“Sixteen? Who uses them?”
“Back in the day when this place was built, families were much larger. Having eight or ten children was not uncommon. Today, only a few bedrooms are used. That is why I said that there would be no problem about us staying here”
“You are really a dark horse aren’t you?”
“Moi? Not really.”
“I don’t believe that for a second”
They reached the door to the conservatory.
“Remember what I said about your thoughts”
“Ok. Ok”, replied a slightly annoyed Charlie.
They entered the conservatory. It was full of plants, mostly orchids.
“I’m over here” came a voice from the depths of the room.
They made their way through the myriad of plants that seemed to cover almost every visible inch of the floor & Window Sills.
“Hi Kat” said Liz when she spotted her friend apparently sitting in a chair tending a plant.
“At last. It’s been far too long since your last visit. How long has it been?”
“A year” said Liz, as they got close.
Then Charlie saw that Kat was in a wheelchair. What was more, she had no legs.
Liz saw Charlie staring out of the corner of her eye.
“This is my friend Charlie. We are working on a project together”
Kat looked at Charlie and offered her hand to him.
Charlie had recovered enough to play the chivalrous Gentleman. He bent over and kissed the back of her hand gently.
“Pleased to meet you Kat. If I may call you that”
“If you called me anything else, I’d be chasing you around the place in an instant”
It took an instant then, Charlie got the joke.
“Ok. I get the joke”
“Good”, said Kat.
“Before you ask, I had a little altercation with a Bull. Liz here saved my life. I owe her so much more that even that”
Charlie was stunned.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I have life. A life I enjoy to the fullest I possibly can. What is there to be sorry about?”
“If you put it that way, there is nothing. Nothing at all”
“Good. Not another word”
“Kat, I have a question though”
She looked at him.
“If you are like you are how on earth are you Master of the Hunt?”
“A question from someone who does not hunt. Why don’t you wait until Saturday and you will find out?”
“Very well. I’ll wait”
“Excellent. Perkins will have some tea & cakes ready for us inside”
“We didn’t mean to interrupt your work here?”
“Nonsense. There is nothing here that can’t wait for another day”
Kat turned around and wheeled her chair back into the house through another entrance.
Perkins served them tea in the lounge. There was a splendid view over the lawns and down to a lake with trees beyond.
Charlie was admiring the view. He became aware of the two women chattering in hushed voices with many furtive glances in his direction.
He walked towards them smiling.
“I guess I was the subject of your conversation?”
Liz went red in the face.
“Liz has just been telling me all about your trip to Europe. I never thought of her as a budding Sherlock Homes but now maybe it is not so strange after all”
“Charlie deserves as much credit as I do”, exclaimed Liz.
“Modest as ever”, said Kat holding Liz’s hand.
Then to everyone’s complete surprise,
“Don’t be to long in making an honest woman of her?”
“Shh. Kat. There is time for hat sort of thing when our job is over”
“Just remember what your Auntie Kat said ok?”
“Yes I will”
When tea was over, Kat said,
“I’ll expect you will need to change for dinner. Give any dirty washing you may have to Perkins. Bill & I will see you at dinner. Perkins will sound the gong at 8pm”
Liz led the way upstairs.
“Which is my room?” asked Charlie.
“We are staying in the same room. I think someone has gotten some wires crossed”
“I think so to”
“Do you mind”, asked Liz.
“Not if you don’t”
“Then we won’t say anything more about it”
Charlie changed the subject.
“What was all this about you saving her life? Something about a bull?”
Liz carried on unpacking her case while she replied.
“Kat was in a field collecting a wild orchid. When a Bull decided that she was a threat and charged. She was kneeling down so she didn’t her up quickly enough. The Bull ran over her legs and really made a mess of them. I was nearby and I got the Bull out of the way. Then I carried Kat to safety”
“Bloody hell Liz, you deserve a medal or something”
“Yeah. Yeah and then what would I do when the papers find out about me. This was between friends and we all want to keep it that way. End of story”
Charlie sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands.
He started sobbing quietly.
“You. That’s what’s up”
“You are so fucking modest. That’s what”
“We are not like you ‘rah-rah’ Americans. We don’t whoop & holler at the slightest thing you know.”
“I’m beginning to learn that”
Liz took hold of his hand
“Don’t worry Charlie. This is the sort of thing you had to know. You had to know about me and what I am. Then you can make a decision about what you want. If that tallies with mine, then we can go to the next step”
“You are an amazing woman. You know that?”
“Thank you kind Sir”
Liz stood up and did a mock curtsey.
When they went down for dinner, Bill and Kat were already there.
What stunned Charlie was the fact that Kat was walking.
This surprised Liz just as much.
“Do you like them?” said Bill proudly.
“Shh Bill before I fall flat on my face”
Bill guided Kat into her seat.
“What gives Kat? You never said you were getting legs?”
Kat held Bill’s hand and said,
“They were my surprise Birthday Present. The Big Three Zero. I’ve not really got used to them yet. But it is really nice to be out of that chair once in a while. IT is nice to put on stockings again, wear nice long dresses and not always getting them tangled up in the chair”
“Well Kat, I think they are great, you look great”
“Then it was worth it. To have my dear friend tell me that is really nice”
“Hasn’t Bill said much the same?”
“Oh yes. But who takes any notice of anything he says”
“Hey, I’m here you know”, protested Bill.
They all laughed and more importantly, relaxed.
Dinner was probably the best food they’d had on their entire trip.
Bill was very proud that almost everything they ate had almost zero food miles.
“The raspberries come from Kent or Scotland. I can’t remember which but everything else come from within 10 miles of this very house”
“I have to say Bill, that the food we have had since we arrived today has been better than almost anything I have ever had before”, said Charlie.
“Almost? I am so disappointed. What was better?” joked Bill.
“I think that would have to be the Maine Lobster that my Grandmother prepared for me as a child”
“That’s ok then. As we are more than 30 miles from the sea, I think we can be forgiven. But if you want to try your hand, you could catch us some trout for dinner tomorrow”
Liz butted in.
“There is a fly fishing lake at the bottom of the garden. But beware. Don’t enter into any wagers with Kat. She is a champion fly caster”
“Not bad for someone who had never had a fishing rod in her hands until I married Bill”
“To my eternal regret. She walloped me from day one and has never let me get close since”, joked Bill.
The jollity carried on right through dinner and in the snooker room afterwards. Kat & Charlie, who was a total beginner at the game, won four frames out of five.
“You are a very competitive lady,” said Charlie as they sat down after the fifth frame.
“I like winning. What’s wrong with that?” came her reply.
No one argued with that.
Later in their room Charlie summed up the evening.
“Kat is a remarkable woman. She & Bill seem to be a really happy couple”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought when I set them up on a date”
“Yep. Little old me. I was working in a bar in London just after I switched”
“Yes. Switched. When I stopped being a man, changed my name, grew my hair and dumped all my old male clothes into a bin”
“Ok. I get it”
“Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I was working in this bar. Kat was also working there. We became friends instantly. One day, she comes into work in a real state. She had caught her long time live in boyfriend in bed with her so-called best friend. She threw them out and burnt all his stuff. Then she regretted it all”
“So how did you get them together?”
“I’m coming to that”
“She moped around for weeks. Then I thought that I might know someone who could get her out of this ‘fug’. So I called Bill. He was in town at some Lord’s committee meeting so I arranged for her to meet him on a blind date at a Restaurant in Victoria. He proposed to her 5 days later. The rest as they say is History”
“You must be proud?”
“Not proud. Pleased yes. I was able to help two friends. They have repaid me a million times over since so yes, I was pleased that it all worked out for them”
“Don’t they have kids?”
“Oh yes. Two. William & Edward. They are away at school. They are great kids. I’m their godmother”
“Yes. I was so honoured when I was asked”
“Do they know about you?”
“Everyone here does. I was brought up as a boy on this estate. It would be silly to hide it.”
“But now one seems to mind?”
“No. That is why this place is home to me. It will always be that way”
“That is what scares the devil out of me”
“What do you mean?”
“If we were to become a couple, could I get you to let go of this place?”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t know. That is what frightens me. You know doing the wrong thing”
“Yeah. It does me as well. That is why I wanted you to see this place. Meet the few real friends I have in the world. You have seen when we first came to Europe that I can get hurt easily. I have had a few bad relationships. I don’t want another. I hope you can even begin to understand that”
Charlie wrapped his arms around her and whispered,
“I’ll try not to break your heart. If I do, you have my permission to kill me ok”
Then for the first time, they kissed lovingly and passionately.
Then for the first time, Charlie made gentle passionate love to Liz.
[Continued in part 6]
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