Lessons In Power
- Author: Charlie Cochrane
- Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
- Year: 2009, September 22
- Genre: GLBT, Historical
- Series: Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 4
- Amazon Listing: Lessons In Power
- Available Formats (As of 09/30/09):
The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them.
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 4
After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.
Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.
Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.
When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.
Warning: Contains sensual m/m lovemaking and hot men playing rugby.
Cambridge, February 1907
“I’ve been reading a book.”
“I remember you saying that once before. We were both stark naked in front of a fire just like this one and by rights should have been making a first consummation of our passion.”
Orlando Coppersmith swatted at his friend’s head with the first thing that came to hand, which luckily for Jonty Stewart wasn’t one of the fire dogs but a bread roll. “It’s a constant amazement to me that you’ve ever shut up long enough for a consummation to take place. Blether, blether, if they made it an Olympic event you’d be so certain to be champion that no one else would turn up to oppose you.”
“And the point of this conversation was?” Jonty flicked some toast crumbs from his cuff.
“This book concerned the meaning of names and it struck me how apt yours was. Well, it struck me at the time—after the latest bit of tomfoolery I’m not so sure.” Orlando, once a potential Olympic frowning champion, smiled happily.
“Handsome, lovely, is that what it means? Statuesque? Desirable?” Jonty chirped away like a little bird, full of the joys of a day which suggested that spring might be just around the corner, if the light filtering into the dining room was any indication.
Orlando grabbed his friend’s hands. “Stop it. I’m in deadly earnest. It means ‘God has given’. Now if that’s not an apt description of you for me then I’ve no idea what is.”
Jonty had the grace to blush. “You’ll have to tell Mama. She alleges the choice of Jonathan was all Papa’s. She wanted to call me James.”
“I think I’ll start calling you Godgiven or some such thing when you’re at your most annoying. It might get you to calm down.” Orlando buttered his toast with great energy, as if it were his friend’s bottom that was getting a whack.
Jonty poked out his tongue, although his lover couldn’t be sure whether he was thinking or being insulting. “And what does Orlando mean? Irritating? Insatiable?”
“It’s from Roland.”
“Well, I’m none the wiser with that.”
“Neither was the book, to tell the truth, although it’s supposed to be something to do with a famous land. I suspect it means ‘he who gains fame throughout the country’.”
Jonty turned up his nose. “More likely ‘he who spends hours in the bathroom’. Luckily we have two in this place or I’d never be ready in the morning.”
In fact there were three bathrooms in their house, but the one in the self-contained annexe—which itself contained Mrs. Ward, their housekeeper—never got taken into the reckoning as they never got to go near it. It was part of the “servant’s quarters”, as the house agent had referred to them when they’d first enquired about the property, only connected with the rest of the building via a rickety flight of stairs which led to the kitchen.
Not that Mrs. Ward ever complained. Her suite of rooms had been decorated and kitted out beautifully, along with all the rest of the house, prior to the men taking occupation. A sailor’s widow in her mid-forties, and with her only son now himself at sea, she’d been recommended to them as a lady who relished the prospect of something to set her abilities to. As the recommendation had come from Ariadne Peters, sister to the Master of St. Bride’s college, Jonty and Orlando had paid close attention to it. They didn’t want their jobs at the college proving surplus to requirements overnight. Mrs. Ward had a big heart, an open mind and a light touch with pastry, which were the best possible qualifications, and in the fortnight they’d been in residence, the men had no complaints.
Their house, a cottage dating to Tudor times but adorned with later extensions and amendments, had previously belonged to an old lady who’d died. Jonty had spied the property out before Christmas and fallen in love with it. He’d whisked Orlando up there the very evening he agreed to buying a house and the cottage had weaved its magic on him too. They’d bought it before anyone else could, then set to with plans for improvements.
Or, to be accurate, Helena Stewart, Jonty’s mother, had descended on her broomstick and taken all the plans for enhancements in hand, as “her lads” were so busy with university business. Soon the Madingley Road was alive with decoration, renovations, plumbing and installation of proper central heating, all without losing an ounce of the property’s charm. It was only a matter of weeks before it was habitable and on February the first they took possession.
“Should I carry you over the threshold?” Jonty had been barely able to restrain the bliss in his voice when they’d taken possession. “Or you me? We could even go in, then come back out so we both get a go…” His words had been stopped in the most effective way, by a single, protracted kiss—allowable only as no one else was within a half a mile’s sight.
Now it felt as if they’d lived in this house forever. Orlando, whose home for many years had consisted of a set of rooms in St. Bride’s in which no one but his students and the Master were allowed—and a chair in the Senior Common Room which no one cared to sit next to—was amazed that his horizons had expanded so far. He kept a room back in college for supervisions, as did Jonty, and their chairs still stood side by side in the SCR, inviolate, but now Orlando had a cottage which he shared in joint names with his lover. He also had second, third, call-them-what-you-would homes in both Sussex and London with the rest of the Stewarts, for whom he was a cross between a fourth son and a favourite son-in-law.
Forsythia Cottage was spacious, affording them each a study to fill with their books, pictures and general clutter. It was well appointed with bedrooms for household and guests, although only one of their beds ever seemed to be slept in on any given night. They always took breakfast together, Mrs. Ward serving up ridiculous quantities of bacon and eggs or—as this morning, when talk turned to names—kedgeree, which was spicy and succulent.
“Shall we have Matthew Ainslie up to Bride’s for High Table?” Jonty’s little nose rose above the newspaper, making him look even more like a small inquisitive mammal than usual.
“Why?” Orlando had managed to avoid having the man visit them through the Michaelmas term, and didn’t want things to change now.
“Because we’re meeting him at the rugby on Wednesday. It would be terribly rude to just shake his hand after the match, say ‘Sorry the university slaughtered Blackheath’, and then just leave him there.”
It was true; Orlando had to admit that would be shoddy treatment. Even for someone who had once made a pass at him up in the woods. He no longer hated Matthew for past indiscretions, nor wanted to kick him in the seat of his pants, but he was sometimes jealous of the affection Jonty felt for a man they’d only met on holiday. “I suppose so. We can let Miss Peters get her teeth into him if he gets out of hand.”
“I’d pay money to see that happen.” Jonty drained his cup and poured another. The late Mr. Ward had tasted the excellent coffee supplied in foreign parts and had taught his wife how to make a good brew.
“I suppose in that case we should see about accommodation for him?”
“No need. He’s been talking about staying at the University Arms, which seems a better idea than having him here. Then he won’t have to listen to your snoring.”
“For the one-hundred-and-ninety-third time, I don’t snore.”
“Don’t you?” Jonty stood up and reached over the table for the marmalade, which his lover had appropriated. “Well, some bloke comes in my bed of a night and reverberates. Perhaps it’s a farmer driving his pigs to market. Ow!”
Orlando had taken advantage of Jonty’s position and landed a hearty slap on his backside. “You’ll get another one of those every time you accuse me of snoring.”
“Seems a positive incentive to keep on doing it then.” Jonty sat down gingerly, although he didn’t mind being whacked by his lover—it often led on to something much more pleasant. “I’ll ring Matthew at lunchtime, then.”
“Coppersmith! Orlando Coppersmith!” A chap the size of the great north wall of the Eiger came into view, cutting a lane through the throng of people along the touchline. He grabbed Orlando’s hand and pumped it up and down until all the blood flow seemed to cease.
“Morgan.” Orlando was pleased to have remembered the name. “I thought you’d have been playing.” He jabbed a finger at the pitch, a field as muddy as only Cambridge could produce in early spring.
“Dodgy leg.” The man mountain grimaced. “Come to cheer the team on.” He offered his hand to Jonty.
“This is Dr. Stewart.” Orlando made the introduction with pride. “He played here in about 1876.”
“Turn of the century, thank you. I think I may have played against you at some point, Mr. Morgan.” Jonty eyed the man’s broken nose and had the vaguest memory that he might just have been responsible. “You beat us then, but I hope we’ll make amends today. Ah, please excuse us…”
A hubbub broke out pitchside, which seemed to consist of repeated sayings along the lines of “Matthew, you old dog” or “Jonty Stewart, when are you going to get a decent haircut?” Together with muttered harrumphs from Orlando, which might or might not have been welcoming, this was all accompanied by an outbreak of backslapping, handshaking and general bonhomie. At least two of the three present were pleased at the reunion. For Ainslie, meeting Jonty and Orlando was the one positive thing to have come out of last summer’s holiday on Jersey, during which his father had been murdered and these two bright young men had solved the case.
“It’s wonderful to be here at last.” Ainslie breathed deep of the fresh Cambridge air, so much healthier than the latest London smog.
“All we needed was for you to get here.” Jonty’s grin couldn’t have been wider. “Now we can get a pint of IPA inside ourselves before kick-off. Need the warmth and sustenance.”
It proved just as well; the first half of the match was slow, more laboured than they’d hoped, and only the thought of another pint of beer was going to see them through if the second half turned out just as dire.
Orlando went off to find the little boys’ room and discussion turned to matters of dangerous binding in the scrum, when Morgan clapped Jonty on the back, sending him sprawling.
The man had been standing close by for the first half, obviously privy to the flow of wit and repartee which passed between the two fellows of Bride’s and their guest. “I’d never have thought to see old Coppersmith in such high humour. What happened to him the last few years to make such a change?”
“Oh—” Jonty was, for once, lost for words. Why did people have to ask such bloody awkward questions? Ones to which the wrong answer could lead to two years’ hard labour? “Ah, he, um, met a lady who had an extraordinary effect upon him.”
“The old dog. I was always convinced he would turn out to be a confirmed bachelor. Any sign of wedding bells?”
“I doubt it. She loves another, you know. Still, he burns a light for her.” Jonty was surprised by Orlando slapping his shoulder. He wasn’t certain whether his lover had heard what he’d said, although the man would have to be blind not to notice Ainslie’s secretive grin.
The game began again, with a bit more swashbuckling spirit on display and, as always seemed to happen, some wag asking whether the referee might benefit from borrowing Stewart’s spectacles. A stiff talking-to had no doubt been delivered with the half-time oranges and the end result of two goals all was regarded as being fair.
“Close call, eh?” Ainslie kept his voice low.
“The match or what he asked?” Jonty looked sidelong at his guest.
The crowds were wending their way back to colleges, pubs, the train station, wherever they’d come from. Morgan had buttonholed Orlando and was bending his ear up ahead on the path from Grange Road to the river. It was getting dark, the lights of Cambridge appearing like stars in the gloaming.
“It’s always the same old story, isn’t it? Lies and subterfuge.” Ainslie shivered, as did his host. The growing coolness in the air didn’t chill them half as much as the thought of the many little deceptions which pervaded their lives.
“I know.” They’d reached the river Cam, Orlando still being regaled with rugby tales and looking like he was desperate to escape. “We’re off to college to change. Meet us in my set for a sherry before dinner.” Jonty shook Ainslie’s hand, watched his neat, strong frame make its way along past St. Catherine’s, then set off to rescue his lover.
“Why did you have to say that?” Orlando’s room in St. Bride’s provided a sanctuary; here a man could talk freely.
“Say what?” Jonty had forgotten all about the halftime banter. That was forty minutes of rugby, a pleasant walk and a glass of sherry ago.
“About me meeting a lady who loved another. I could hear your voice a mile away. What sort of an impression will they have of me? I thought you didn’t approve of lies.” Orlando was fuming. Far from making him mellow, the beer had turned him belligerent.
“I don’t. Everything I said was true. You met my mama, who is without doubt a lady, and she has had a great effect upon you. And you could never marry her, could you, even if you wanted to?” Jonty looked with regret at the old leather chair by the fire. A nap would be nice but he didn’t suppose he’d be allowed one.
“That’s being pedantic. It may have been the literal truth but it told a misleading story.”
“Well, would you rather I’d said that you’d discovered the delights of my bed, which is the reason why you’re so much more confident and worldly wise? Think of the impression that would have caused, Dr. Coppersmith.” Jonty knew that he was in the right, and he always made the most of moral superiority.
Orlando was about to argue, then sighed and shook his head. “No, I think this was one occasion when the truth wouldn’t have paid.” He stared out of the window, musing. “I did wonder why he was being so friendly. He never used to make a point of talking to me.”
“You probably used to tell him off for sitting in your chair. Or standing on your bit of the pitch. Now that you’re a man of wide social experience, you give off a notable aura of bon viveur. Morgan no doubt sees that you’ve become much more fun to associate with and wishes to become one of your intimates.” Jonty began shifting his clothes, or else they’d never make Hall.
“Don’t rag me. I was incredibly lonely at times at Oxford. I could have done with a bit more beer and camaraderie then.” Orlando hated referring to the loneliness of his pre-Jonty days (or “the blessed times of quiet” as he called them) and if he was doing so now, he must be feeling the emptiness of them.
“Oh, my love. If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. We can’t ever go back and change things can we? If we could, our formative years would all have been quite different.”
“I’m sorry.” Orlando’s loneliness now seemed very small beer compared to the horrors Jonty had been forced to endure at school, experiences it had taken him a great deal of time to recover from. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Of course you didn’t, whatever it was. Look, we’re neither of us the men we were and I daily thank God for it.” Jonty, the beer still making his body and spirit glow, felt as though he’d made the wisest pronouncement since the days of Solomon, one which was beyond answer. He was wrong.
“Quite right, too.” Orlando fiddled with his cufflinks. “I know you hate it when I speculate about what would have happened if we hadn’t met, but I can’t help doing it.”
“What if we’d met earlier? I mean what if we’d been opponents in the Varsity Match? I couldn’t have failed to notice you, all gangly legs and unruly curls. I’d have thrown you into touch a few times then we’d have shared a few beers in the bar. It would have been so nice…” There was something about the combination of rugby and beer which made the best of men maudlin.
Orlando snorted. “Well, we could hardly have commenced a relationship out there on the pitch, could we? No, please don’t favour that with an answer. It gives you far too much capacity for making obscene jokes about releasing the ball in the tackle.”
“I do fantasise sometimes, about what it would have been like to find myself at the bottom of a maul with you on top of me. Shame you mathematicians think it beneath yourselves to rummage up a rugger team—the English mob could organise a fixture and, assuming your old Achilles was up to it…” Jonty drifted off into pleasant reverie. He’d never seen his lover play the beautiful game, so it had become a favourite pastime to try to imagine it.
“Perhaps I can persuade them.”
Jonty almost dropped his collar stud. “Do you mean it?”
“Indeed. There’s a few chaps new to the university who could well be encouraged to turn out. And I’d enjoy it, too.” He smiled, full of mischief.
“Oh yes, Orlando? Being able to take me down in the tackle?”
“And rubbing your little nose into the mud a few times. Can’t think of anything better. On a rugby field that is,” Orlando added with a grin. “In here, that’s another matter…”
But the other matter was never explored, any investigation cut short when Matthew Ainslie knocked on the door in search of his glass of sherry.
High Table was excellent, a corner cut of beef being set off with fiery horseradish, and Yorkshire puddings as light as a feather. Ariadne Peters, whose plain looks were always eclipsed by her sparkling conversation, proved as entertaining as ever, and her brother charmed Ainslie with his intelligent interest in publishing.
They took coffee, cheese and fruit in the Senior Common Room, and when Ainslie accidentally sat in Orlando’s chair, the company waited with bated breath for the inevitable explosion of wrath. He astonished them all by sitting in the chair on the other side, letting Jonty take his normal seat. It was a gesture at once simple in its hospitality and profound in its sacrificial nature.
Jonty felt immensely proud of his lover’s good grace and resolved that he’d get an adequate reward when they returned home. The conversation meandered on, the wine, quantities of food and warm atmosphere having a soporific effect, so that Orlando soon suggested they take a little air before they all fell asleep. As the three men strolled along, the night air immediately counteracting the feelings of sleepiness, Ainslie spoke.
“Are you free for coffee tomorrow morning at, shall we say, eleven? I didn’t want to spoil this evening with business, although tomorrow I’d be grateful if I could—” he seemed to be thinking of the correct term, “—consult you on a professional basis.”
Jonty bowed, with only a hint of facetiousness. “That makes us sound conspicuously like Holmes and Watson. I’m available—are you, Dr. Coppersmith?”
Orlando’s face illustrated all the frustration he felt. “No, I’ve college business. And on a Saturday too.” He rolled his eyes.
“Then Dr. Stewart will have to take excellent notes, won’t he?” Ainslie smiled and strolled off, leaving his friends to find a cab to take them back up the Madingley Road.
Ainslie had found a part of the University Arms where he and his guest could take coffee and talk without being overheard, an important element in his plan, given the potentially delicate nature of the discussion. A University College London man himself, he was enjoying his visit to such a hallowed seat of learning (still hallowed despite Jonty’s tales of his less-than-bright students).
Ainslie had ended up with a degree in literature, a taste for port and some interesting connections, which meant he could indulge his inclination towards other men with both discretion and pleasure. A discretion which had temporarily deserted him on Jersey although, thank the Lord, not one which had stood in the way of his friendship with Stewart and his more aloof companion.
He welcomed his guest at eleven on the dot, pouring out a cup of what proved to be an excellent brew. They chatted amiably for a few moments, mainly about the university’s prospects in the forthcoming cricket season, then Stewart felt it was time to open his own batting.
“You wanted to talk to us about some sort of case, I take it?”
“Indeed. I remember with extreme gratitude your help on Jersey and I know of your success both before and after it.”
Stewart grinned. “You’ve been reading The Times, I suppose, and now you want us to poke our noses into something?”
“That’s an unusual way of putting it, but yes.” Ainslie was impressed to see Stewart produce, along with his glasses, an elegant notepad and an equally elegant propelling pencil with which he began to make notes. The air of objective authority helped to make a painful situation rather more bearable. “I won’t beat about the bush. I have a friend who has been accused of murder. He assures me that he’s innocent and I believe that to be the truth. I would like you to see if you can find any evidence to support his case.”
“When is this due to come to court?” Stewart’s pencil tapped on the page.
“There’s likely to be a delay while an important medical witness is recalled from abroad, but we can’t be looking at much the other side of Easter.” The window gave a faint reflection. Ainslie, catching sight of his face, was shocked at how pale he’d turned.
Stewart was concerned. “And does his own counsel give him any hope?”
Ainslie stared out of the window, at the children playing on Parker’s Piece, their delight in running on the grass meaning nothing to his unseeing eyes. “Not very much.” All he could see was a face—not his own this time—a handsome young face. One that, time was, had been his greatest delight.
Stewart considered his next question. “If we find evidence that your friend is indeed guilty, what then?”
Ainslie turned, his keen eyes fixing his guest’s equally candid ones. “Then he hangs. I’ll not have facts suppressed just to bring about the desired result. I want the truth.” It hurt to speak every word, yet each had to be said.
Stewart patted his friend’s arm. “Good man. Couldn’t have taken the job without you having said that. Now can I have some details? What’s your friend’s name?”
“Should I know him? I’m sure I’ve heard the name before.”
“He’s the man who sent that letter to Jersey, detailing my alleged sins to someone who wished to besmirch my reputation.” Ainslie watched the children playing yet didn’t see them, still registering in his mind’s eye a happier time and place.
“Matthew, I don’t understand, why should you choose to defend him of all people?”
“We were once lovers, Jonty, very fond and close. We had a misunderstanding, a series of them really, and we couldn’t come to any sort of a resolution. We separated under very unsympathetic circumstances—there was a lot of bitterness on his part.” Ainslie’s gaze remained fixed outside. “Which is why he was keen to give information to my business rival. Spite. Or revenge.”
“It’s very magnanimous of you to be going to his aid. Was there some rapprochement over the last few months?”
“No, it was his sister who approached me.” Ainslie remembered Angela Stafford with fondness—she had never betrayed his friendship. “His mother and father decided to sever ties with him when they discovered where his affections lay. Miss Stafford knew we’d been very close, knew we’d parted, but had no idea, obviously, of Alistair’s subsequent betrayal. I didn’t enlighten her.” He at last brought his gaze back into the room.
“Of course not. Yet you still agreed to help?” Stewart looked so outraged that Ainslie smiled, despite the turmoil in his mind.
“Not there and then, but I agreed to meet him and hear his side of the tale. I was sufficiently convinced—well, to be here now.”
Stewart laid down his pencil for a moment. “I feel unworthy to be given such a responsibility. The things we’ve been involved with in the past haven’t been that important, or rather our role within them hasn’t. The police would have solved those first two crimes anyway, irrespective of our input. Is there no one else you could ask for help? Someone more competent?”
“There may be, but there’s no one I trust half as well as I do you and Dr. Coppersmith. I can be completely candid with you and I’m learning to be so with him. If there’s anything to be found, I’m sure that you’re the men to find it.”
The intellectual detective tried hard not to beam and poised his pencil again. “Can I take a few details?”
“I have some notes here for you—” Ainslie produced a large envelope, “—although I can give you a summary. A man was found dead in his house in Dorking, down in Surrey, the back of his head smashed in with a poker. Alistair was known to have argued violently with him just days before, threatening his life.”
“And the man’s name?”
“Lord Christopher Jardine.” Ainslie almost flinched, so sudden was the change in Stewart’s normally good-humoured face. “Did you know him?”
“There was a boy of that name at my school.” Stewart was making his face a blank, a mask over it to hide all feeling.
“He’d be a few years older than you.”
“Then I did know him.” Stewart fiddled with his pencil, some deep emotion welling up, threatening to engulf him.
“I’m sorry.” Ainslie’s words were sincere but they sounded feeble.
“So am I, Matthew. Sorry I ever made his acquaintance.”
- 2009, September 22 - E-book and Kindle Release (Samhain Publishing)