Lessons in Trust [Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 7]
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by Charlie Cochrane
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: He thought he knew who he was. Now he's a stranger to himself. Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 7 When Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith witness the suspicious death of a young man at the White City exhibition in London, they're keen to investigate--especially after the cause of death proves to be murder. But police Inspector Redknapp refuses to let them help, even after they stumble onto clues to the dead man's identity. Orlando's own identity becomes the subject for speculation when, while mourning the death of his beloved grandmother, he learns that she kept secrets about her past. Desperate to discover the truth about his family, Orlando departs suddenly on a solo quest to track down his roots, leaving Jonty distraught. While Jonty frantically tries to locate his lover, Orlando wonders if he'll be able to find his real family before he goes mad. After uncovering more leads to the White City case, they must decide whether to risk further involvement. Because if either of them dares try to solve the murder, Inspector Redknapp could expose their illicit--and illegal--love affair. Product Warnings Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men driving Lagondas.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [322 KB]
Reading time: 202-283 min.
White City, London, 1908
"If you think I'm going up on that thing..." Orlando Coppersmith looked at the great metal creation. It seemed to reach up miles into the sky, higher than the Eiffel Tower or anything he'd ever seen. Even though the measurements, the beautifully accurate and logical measurements, meant it couldn't be as high as he perceived it was, his eyes wouldn't believe his brain.
"Why not?" Jonty Stewart's eyes were ablaze with awe and wonder. "Everyone goes on the Flip Flap."
"I'm not everyone." Orlando knew all about his lover's delight in bell towers, follies, any high places which gave panoramic views. "Anyway, you'll be sick." It was a feeble, inaccurate shot, inevitably missing its target.
"I'm never sick. Sorry." A wide grin crossed Jonty's handsome face, attracting the attention of two passing maidens. He raised his hat to them and carried on blithely, "I correct myself. I was once sick when some idiot took me on a helter-skelter two hours after a sporting dinner at St. Bride's, but that was when I was a mere stripling." No fellow of such an august Cambridge college was going to admit that he'd also been horribly ill just three years previously, after sledging with his nephew down a snow-covered hill. That was before he'd met Orlando and therefore both pre-historic and confidential.
"I'll be sick."
"Ah. Good point. I'll never forget the ferry crossing to Jersey." Jonty looked crestfallen, so disappointed at thwarted ambition that it knocked any argument out of Orlando's mind.
"Oh, blow it. Let's go on the thing then." It was worth suffering just to see the delight on his friend's face. "And if I'm sick I'll do it in your hat."
The Flip Flap. Everyone was talking about it, even the people who hadn't yet been to the Franco-British exhibition at the great White City which was the talk of the country. There were songs about it in the music halls and Ella Retford wasn't the only one singing "Take me on the Flip Flap". Jonty and Orlando had heard a group of youths warbling it just the day before as they'd been wandering down Regent Street. Even Jonty's father had been on the contraption, becoming so loquacious about his experience that Mrs. Stewart had been forced to have words. "I told your father, Jonathan," she'd addressed her youngest son so loudly over the telephone that Orlando had been able to hear from the other side of the hall, "that if he doesn't shut up, I'll be filing for divorce and naming the Flip Flap as co-respondent." Much to her dismay that conversation had made Jonty decide he and his lover had to visit the White City as soon as possible to see for themselves.
Orlando had been reluctant despite Mr. Stewart's glowing reports. He'd seen Paris and been stunned by both the simpering Mona Lisa and the oddly masculine Venus de Milo. He'd strolled through Monte Carlo, as urbane a boulevardier as if he'd been born to the role, or at least a good imitation of one. Why should he want to see imitations of glory when he'd encountered the real thing? The unanswerable argument was that Jonty wanted to see these things and what Jonty wanted, he got. The dunderheads had gone home from the university, back to families who would be astounded by their brains even if Cambridge wasn't, and the long vac stretched ahead, full of promise. And a visit to the White City could incorporate a visit to the Stewarts' London home, which would brighten anyone's summer.
So they were here, in the Court of Honour, Orlando with his eyes as wide as a child's, taking in the sights. He was pleased the skies were slightly overcast, certain he would have been overwhelmed if the white buildings had been in full sunlight, dazzling against a piercing blue background. Dull white against hazy blue-grey made the whole thing manageable. It was still astounding. He knew it wasn't real, just a form of structural prestidigitation, wood and concrete and plaster creating a wonderful illusion of buildings which had stood since time immemorial. It wasn't the Louvre, or Sacre Coeur, but it was magnificent.
"Flip Flap it is, then I'm off to look at the jewellery." Orlando picked up his pace.
"Jewellery? Isn't that coming it a bit effete?" Jonty's blue eyes were alive with excitement. "I thought you'd be dragging me off to the Machinery Hall to look at the lift turbines or whatever it was Father was getting in such a state about."
"I'll get round to them eventually, but I think I'll be needing something a bit lighter and less taxing than mechanical contraptions after going up in that thing." Orlando pointed towards the Flip Flap, visions going through his mind of being dragged off to the scenic railway and any other pleasure rides Jonty could find before he'd be allowed a sniff of something like a nice noisy engine or a big gun.
"There's plenty of time to do it all. We can stay late tonight and see the lights then come back tomorrow and the next day. You'll be satiated." Jonty's walk was almost a series of dance steps, the obvious excitement he felt bubbling into all parts of his being. "Imagine that." He lowered his voice. "You, satiated. Wonders will never cease."
Wonders certainly didn't cease over the rest of the day. It would have been impossible for anyone to tread the paths and bridges of the White City and not feel all their senses being assaulted. The magnificence of the buildings, the press of people, the sheer volume of sights and sounds and information--it would have exhausted lesser men. But the fellows of St. Bride's were made of sterner stuff and no Palace of Fine Arts was going to defeat them nor any exhibition of education be allowed to bore them.
They stopped for a late lunch, glad to rest weary feet and take a break from endless exclamations of, "Have you seen that?" or "Isn't this amazing?"
"Mother will kill me, but I'll have to side with Father." Jonty placed an order for a chop, some new potatoes and a little salad--a light meal just in case the scenic railway was to be attempted again, but enough to sustain a man through an afternoon of seeing the sights. "It's extraordinary. Like having the whole world in your back yard."
"It's certainly an interesting way of seeing things, even though I have to keep reminding myself it's not authentic." Orlando poured a reviving drink of water. He wasn't going to risk alcohol in view of Jonty's eagerness to be on the rides again.
"Even Father admits it's all a bit unreal here, although he felt that was half the appeal. Like the theatre--you know that fairy can't be flying across the stage but you suspend disbelief. It's magical." Jonty swept his arm around. "And, if we can get around all of it, there'll be all sorts of places you can tick off your list for future holidays as you'll have already 'done them'."
Orlando grinned at the shared joke. For years he'd been reluctant to travel farther than one of the outlying Cambridge colleges. "You mean I won't have to be dragged to Australia if I visit their exhibition hall? That sounds splendid. I wish all travel could be as simple." He settled into his chair in pleasurable anticipation of steak, new potatoes and peas, although whether the meat would be as good as that which Mrs. Ward, their housekeeper, regularly roused out from their butcher, he wasn't sure. That was another thing about spreading one's wings and taking to pastures new--you couldn't guarantee the quality of the nosebags' contents.
"You know what would make this even better? Seems sinful to want it, but..." Jonty shrugged.
"I know. I'd feel guilty if it came about, of course I would, although I wouldn't complain." A look passed between them, the years of closeness bringing about a form of communication that no longer needed words. They'd reached the point where looks and some sort of telepathy built of familiarity sufficed. "Been a long time."
Murder. Mystery. Anything which presented a problem and let a man get his wits around solving it. The last time they'd had anything really worthy of their skills had been the autumn of 1907, and the year before that had been full of unexplained killings to be solved. Since then they'd barely got a sniff of a case, certainly not any they'd like to take on. There'd been a stream of correspondence addressed to Drs. Coppersmith and Stewart, Detectives, St. Bride's College, Cambridge, which had galled Orlando and made the porters snigger. There had been times he'd been grateful for the notoriety produced by Mr. Stewart's article in the Times about their sleuthing--it had helped in more than one case. But when the letters began to trickle in, asking for help in finding missing husbands or getting to the bottom of whether Granny really had been poisoned for her savings in 1873, he'd been increasingly annoyed.
They'd responded to them all with polite refusals--Jonty took charge of that, his lover not to be trusted in case he made some caustic remark in the process. One poor soul had written that they'd already been in contact with Mr. Holmes but to no avail and now they were turning from Baker Street to Cambridge. Orlando had wanted to take the first train to Manchester, where this unfortunate correspondent lived, and upbraid him on his own doorstep. Whether he'd taken umbrage at being compared to the dreaded Sherlock or whether it was because he'd been turned to second, not first, Jonty wasn't sure, but he'd almost had to lock Orlando away to prevent him being a murderer himself rather than a catcher of them.
Other than that it had been a nice enough and highly productive time. Jonty had got his book on the sonnets proofread and published, and Orlando had been doing some excellent work both on Boolean algebra and for his grandmother's fund for brilliant but impoverished students. All worthwhile, all--along with teaching in college and doing further work on their cottage and garden--enough to keep them busy, although something had been lacking. And while it felt wrong to be actively hoping a corpse would somehow appear and the police would be so baffled they'd have to call the two amateurs in, Orlando was beginning to feel desperate, worried he'd never feel the thrill of that particular chase again.
Jonty could quite happily have gone another twelvemonth without a killer to catch, especially after the emotional traumas of the last few cases, but he hated to see his lover unhappy. Especially on such a glorious summer's day as this.
"Maybe they'll find my father dead at the foot of the scenic railway." Jonty took a swig of beer. "No, belay that, I'd hate to see the old chap go. Perhaps he could just be found beaten up--nothing too serious, nothing worse than the sort of thing you'd get from a nasty scrum--and you could solve who'd done the ghastly deed."
Orlando laid down his glass of water, rolled his eyes and gave his lover a withering look. "I suppose studying Shakespeare doesn't require an ability to think logically. There'd be nothing to investigate. If your father was found here in a state of disarray, the culprit would clearly be your mother, fed up with his obsession with the place. Like everyone would know it was me who'd done it, if you were found strangled with a pair of driving goggles."
"And why would you want to kill me, my dearest friend and colleague?" Jonty thought he could guess the answer, but it was fun riling his lover.
"Because of it. The great metal monster." Orlando looked as if murder really was about to be committed and Jonty was pleased to see the arrival of the waiter with their order. He deftly turned the conversation to other things, like whether rump was a tastier cut than sirloin and why vegetables always tasted better when they came out of your own garden. It was by far the safest route to take.
Fires stoked up for the work ahead, they started off around the exhibition again, admiring a picture here, sampling a glass of champagne there, buying a box of chocolates to take home for their hostess. Their enthusiasm never palled, even if there were no dead bodies in the offing. By the time the illuminations began to twinkle over the lake in the gloaming, Orlando was stifling yawns.
"Think we've done enough for today, old man." Jonty clapped him on the shoulder. "There's always tomorrow."
Orlando nodded. "Aye. I think I've had an ample sufficiency today. I need a good night's sleep to ready myself for another dose." He looked around, the lights' reflections dancing in his dark eyes. "I'm so glad we came. Now for the journey home." He drew himself up to his full height, as if about to face the executioner.
From the first time they'd met, nearly three years previously, Orlando had been prone to dramatic moments, rolling his eyes for emphasis and generally overacting when cross at something his lover or the dunderheads of students had done. When he'd had to mark a particularly useless set of algebra exercises, his eyes would almost disappear around the back of his head. He was at his most theatrical now.
"For goodness sake, it'll be fine. Nice fresh air--better than being stuck with the hordes of humanity on the train." Jonty tugged on his arm. "Come on, Mama will be waiting for us with coffee and port."
"I'll need both." Orlando gave another roll of his eyes, shuddered and trudged towards the exit.
Any decent human beings would have arrived at the White City by underground railway, alighting from the Central London line at Wood Lane and joining the masses as they headed for the exhibition. But Jonty Stewart wasn't, as Orlando often averred, a decent human being. He might have been an angel in a very effective disguise, or an overgrown cherub who'd lost his wings and his way, but in the matter of his uncivilised--as far as Orlando was concerned--humanity, he was unique. They'd arrived at the White City in a motor car, Jonty's brand new Lagonda, or, as he told people interminably, his six-cylinder, twenty-horsepower Torpedo. It was black, sleek, shiny, beautiful, and Orlando hated it.
He knew it was stupid, feeling so jealous of a car, but jealous he was. Ever since it had arrived, Jonty had seemed to lavish huge amounts of praise and affection on it, affection which by rights belonged to Dr. O. Coppersmith alone. He polished and buffed it, soothed and caressed it. Orlando wouldn't have been surprised if Jonty would have liked to spend his nights curled up in the thing, caressing its curves and lines in his dreams, as he often caressed his lover's. For two months it had been polluting a small piece of hard standing at Forsythia Cottage, their little home up the Madingley Road, far enough from the dunderheads to make it a haven of peace and refinement.
At least it had been a haven until the metal monster had arrived, and there was still no sign of Jonty tiring of it and sending it off to the scrap yard or some other place where it deserved to be. If it hadn't presented a risk to his lover's life, Orlando would have been happy to see the Lagonda in a ditch, a twisted and tormented lump of steel or whatever Godforsaken stuff they used to make such things.
He had been forced out in it, of course, more than once--and once should have been enough for any man with a speck of decency about him. Now he'd been dragged through London in the monster, a city in which the natural way to travel was foot, horse-drawn cab or railway. And he was having to process back through the city to the Stewarts' home, hiding his face in case he was seen by any eminent mathematicians from the capital's seats of learning.
* * * *
"Well, what did we think of it?" Richard Stewart must have been watching from the window, given the speed with which he'd opened the front door. Perhaps he'd even barged Hopkins the butler out of the way en route. The man was bouncing on his toes like a big schoolboy, just like Jonty did when excitement overcame him.
"Wonderful, Papa. Everything you said it would be and more." Jonty took off his gloves and goggles, laying them on the little lacquered table where they might send out a siren call to his father. If Mr. Stewart wanted to convert his son to the glories of the Anglo-French exhibition, then his son wanted to reciprocate by getting him interested in motoring.
"You went on the Flip Flap?" Mr. Stewart's eyes were aglow.
"Richard!" Mrs. Stewart's voice cut through the air like a sabre through butter. "What are we not to mention in this house?"
"Tell me later," Mr. Stewart whispered as his wife swept into the hall and scooped up her favourite boys.
Mrs. Stewart must have been stunning in her youth--the portraits on the stairs were evidence of it--and even in late middle age she was striking, silvery gold hair and blue eyes mirroring her son's colouration. She and her husband still turned plenty of heads, not all of them mature.
Supper was excellent, as it always was when Jonty's parents entertained: smoked salmon, lightly scrambled eggs, tiny tomatoes sweeter than honey, all washed down with champagne. As they ate, Orlando waxed lyrical about the sights they'd seen, allowed much more leeway to praise the exhibition than his almost-father-in-law was clearly allowed. But then he avoided all mention of a certain ride which took you up in the air and left your stomach on terra firma.
"And you'll go back tomorrow?" Mrs. Stewart scooped up the last bit of her egg onto a piece of toast.
"Certainly. We've not covered the half of it, not properly, anyway." Jonty wiped his mouth on the thick damask napkin. "Will you come with us?"
"I would love to, my dear, but there's a meeting I must attend. My fund for unfortunate girls. Maybe another time?"
"Helena!" Mr. Stewart smote the table. "I've offered on four occasions to take you to the White City and every one of them you've refused to even consider."
"That's because you're not Orlando, Papa. Mama wants him to squire her around the site so that all the other women will look and be jealous." Jonty cast a sidelong glance at his mother, who was wearing an unusually demure expression. "Or is it the lure of the car?"
"It might be nice to be taken for a little drive..." Mrs. Stewart's ears turned a delicate shade of pink. "It's such a fine machine--very comfortable-looking and with such beautiful upholstery."
"Oh, Mrs. Stewart, not you too." Orlando would have put his head in his hands if such a gesture wouldn't risk being told off for having his elbows on the table. "Is there no one in the world who isn't smitten by these awful contraptions? Has everyone--" he was about to say lost their sanity but the vision of being strung up by his bootstraps from the Stewarts' lintel forestalled him. "Has everyone got to be besotted with them?"
"I can't say I see the appeal, Orlando." Mr. Stewart raised his hand to silence any dissent from wife or son before he'd had his say. "I don't mind a nice journey on a train or a steamship--there's grandeur for you, and science in action, applied for the benefit of mankind. But automobiles..." His face looked like he'd found something unpleasant on his boot.
"Richard." Mrs. Stewart didn't raise her voice to the volume she normally applied to an argument. It was all the more chilling for its measured tone. "Jonathan has always been a forward-thinking young man, and I'd like to think myself a woman whose mind and spirit are younger than her contemporaries. I'd be delighted to embrace the twentieth century and go for a ride."
"That's the spirit, Mama. At the first mutually convenient moment I'll make sure you get your heart's desire. Not like some old fuddy-duddies I could mention." Jonty looked sideways at his father. "And make sure you get Papa to buy you a suitable outfit. A nice coat and skirt, lightweight but warm, a new hat and a dashing scarf to tie said hat on would be a good start."
"I'll call in at the milliner's on the way home from my meeting--the sooner I'm kitted out the better." Mrs. Stewart looked more like a schoolgirl contemplating her first ball than a respectable grandmother. "Now, are there any rules I'll have to know? Will I need to join the Automobile Association as you have?"
"How did you know about that?" Orlando had never before been quite so bold with his almost-mother-in-law but the situation was reaching crisis point.
"I inspected that handsome badge on the--is it called the grille, dear?"
"That's right, Mama. But you won't need to join, not as a passenger. I only became a member to..." Jonty hesitated, "...to be a responsible driver and learn about keeping the Lagonda in decent nick."
Orlando could stand the half truths no longer. He appealed to Caesar, in the venerable form of Mr. Stewart. "Do you want to know why your son joined the Automobile Association? It's nothing to do with being a considerate driver and it's certainly nothing to do with maintaining that...that...monster. It's so he can be warned about the police speed traps."
"No, it isn't." Jonty's reddened cheeks gave the instant lie to his words. "Well, not entirely. And you have to admit that would be useful, if we wanted a jaunt down to Brighton. You wouldn't want me to be caught by the constabulary, would you, Papa? Wouldn't do the old reputation any good. Now, what would you say to Brighton, Mama? Fancy a spot of sea air?"
"That sounds lovely." Mrs. Stewart turned her head, as sharp as any schoolmistress to the hint of a snort. "I heard that, Orlando. Don't you appreciate the seaside?"
Orlando snorted again. "I always welcome the sea air, but the proper way to get there is in a train. Somehow the combination of your son, the open road and that machine seems like pure chaos. I get a headache just thinking about it." He adopted his best lecturing-to-the-dunderheads tones. "I can see it now. 'My lords'--he'd have to be tried by them, no ordinary jury could cope with him--'I strongly believe that Dr. Stewart should never be permitted around anything both mechanical and more complicated than a pocket watch. The threat to public safety is too great. I have done the calculations.'" Orlando waved his napkin in lieu of the papers he'd have to exhibit in the House of Lords.
"Hear, hear." Mr. Stewart, who was entitled to sit in the House of Lords but couldn't be bothered to stoop so low, applauded.
"Please don't encourage him, I've had weeks of this." Jonty's handsome face was screwed up in mock agony. "Still, if he doesn't want to walk all the way tomorrow, he'll have to swallow his pride--and his calculations--and get into the passenger seat." A sly look crossed his face. "Maybe you could learn to drive, Orlando. It's very logical, you know, almost a mathematical process. You'd take to it like a duck to water, just like you did with punting."
"At least if I drove and you were just the passenger, there'd be less risk of killing the entire population of London." Orlando drew himself up in his chair, changing his expression to the one he used for addressing particularly stupid undergraduates. "I wouldn't need to fear any policemen as I wouldn't be going too fast."
"I don't believe that for a moment. Not once you'd got the bit between your teeth. And don't you think he'd look so handsome in a driving hat and goggles? Ow--no kicking." Jonty rubbed his shin. "He kicked me under the table, Mama, just like Clarence used to do."
"Then, like Clarence, he'll have to go to bed." Mrs. Stewart grinned. She'd sent them to bed before, even though both were nearly thirty at the time. And she considered neither of them too old for a whack on the backside. "Go on, off to bed. The pair of you. And separate rooms."
* * * *
"Your mother said separate rooms." Orlando struggled into his nightgown, which seemed to be fighting back tonight. Perhaps it needed a kick and being sent upstairs, although upstairs from his room would mean it spending the night in the servants' quarters.
He'd never have coped with such a bold remark being made to him a few years ago. Now he was either inured to other people--selected others--knowing about his relationship with Jonty, or he didn't care. He still marvelled at the Stewarts being so understanding. His own parents would have sent him packing if they'd known that he and Jonty lay together, and not content with just a despatch to some far-flung part of the Empire, they'd have probably informed the police en route. The scandal could never have been borne, the Coppersmith name had to be protected.
Funny how the Stewart name, much more eminent, had managed to find itself untarnished, but then the Stewarts would never have reported their son for being in love. They'd even somehow managed to maintain, without actually lying, the belief amongst their social circle that Jonty would remain a confirmed bachelor only until the right girl came along. She was just taking a long time coming.
"I've only come in to say goodnight." Jonty draped himself over the fireside chair. "And to show you the bruise on my shin." He hitched up his trouser leg to reveal an elegant calf.
"That's dirt from the scenic railway. And you deserved a kick for the me-in-goggles remark. I suppose you imagine me doing all the hard work behind the wheel and yourself sitting there in the passenger seat, looking attractive in a long buff coat and some rakish hat." Orlando let out a sigh.
"Sitting and looking pretty is one of my most notable accomplishments." Jonty's sprawling posture confirmed his words--even just lazing in a chair looking insolent he was alluring. "I'll wear that blue scarf Mama gave me, the one which matches my eyes. I'll have to eschew goggles for the occasion as they'll obscure the natural beauty of my gaze." He sprang up, stabbing his lover in the chest with a particularly sharp finger. "And I heard that remark. You need to learn to whisper a little less loudly. I'll give you 'vanity, thy name is Stewart'. Don't you think I'd look dashing in my scarf and hat getup though? I'd say I'd turn quite a few heads--you would, too, in some smart cap set at a jaunty angle on those curls." Jonty ruffled the items concerned.
"I wouldn't let you out on the road, passenger or not, if you weren't wearing goggles. You'd get a piece of grit in your eye and make yourself blind."
"I'm glad you take such care of my health." Jonty slid his hand along his lover's arm. "Old softy."
"No such thing. I'm less concerned for your health than mine. If you ended up losing the sight of one eye, your mother would flay me alive." Orlando pressed his lover's hand, rubbing the flesh on the knuckles. "Seriously, get her to find you something in brass or some such outlandish material, whatever's the height of fashion among the nobility who drive these wretched things. But please look after yourself."
"Don't I always?" They took a long embrace, a goodnight kiss which turned into a series of kisses. "Separate beds tonight. A long time since we've done that."
"Maybe it's as well. If I want to have energy enough for the Flip Flap tomorrow." Orlando slapped his lover's backside and shooed him towards the door.
"The Flip Flap again? You're getting as bad as Papa." Jonty turned his lover's face to the light. "There are even times you look like the old man." He ruffled Orlando's hair. "More jungle here though, rather than desert wastes."
"My father had a fine head of hair. Right to the end." Orlando swallowed hard. There were times it didn't hurt to refer to his family, many of them since he'd met Jonty and learned to be happy, but this wasn't one of them. For some reason--maybe his lover's flippant remark, maybe being in a house so awash with joy--he couldn't help feeling melancholy at the memory of the Coppersmiths.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so frivolous." Jonty took one last kiss. "See you in the morning."
Orlando turned off the light and lay in bed, but sleep seemed very elusive tonight. His thoughts were filled with his mother and father, whom he'd loved and who'd not known how to love their son in return. And his grandmother, who'd been the light of his young life. And of a little boy who still didn't really understand why there had been such a knot of pain, kept hidden, but clear in its effect, within the Coppersmith family.