A Banquet of Consequences(7)

By: Elizabeth George


“Cunt in a bottle.”

She shook him hard, a teeth rattling shake. She swung him round to face the sitting room. “Get out of my sight,” she snapped. “Get yourself in order, and do it now. You know what it takes, so do it. And do not make me tell you more than once.”


SPITALFIELDS

LONDON

Outside, Alastair MacKerron went directly to the bakery van. He was shaken more than usual by what was going on with Will. This was the worst he’d ever seen.

He’d had high hopes at first when Will had taken himself off to London. He’d found himself a girlfriend—bit edgy with all her piercings and those mad tattoos, but what did it matter at the end of the day?—and he’d managed to establish a business that did fairly well for a bit. He’d even made contact with his gran, and if he’d ignored his mum’s advice to keep well clear of his dad and his dad’s infant bride, what did that really matter either? He was setting off on his own at last, and the occasional upset surely wouldn’t be enough to take him down. At least that was what Alastair had believed.

“Let him spread his wings, Caro” had been Alastair’s advice. “You can’t keep coddling the lad forever.”

Caroline didn’t see it as coddling, of course. She saw it as being a proper mum. For being that to her boys was paramount to her, and she’d made this very clear to Alastair from the moment he’d realised—much to his chagrin—that he’d fallen hard for a married woman.

He’d felt lucky to have her for quite some time. From the moment he’d seen her at that Christmas panto, sipping a virtuous orange juice at the interval and observing, bright-eyed and smiling, the gaily garbed families surging through the bar and lined up for ice cream and purchasing souvenir programmes right and left, he’d wanted to know her. He’d been there with five of his nieces and nephews and she’d claimed the same: two nephews who were running about somewhere making trouble, no doubt, was how she put it. That the “nephews” turned out to be her sons was something she admitted to only much later.

“I didn’t know what you’d think,” she’d told him.

What she’d meant was that she didn’t know what he’d think if she’d revealed she was married. Unhappily so. Tied to a man who lacked sufficient interest in the act to bed her more than once each season. But married all the same.

He wouldn’t have thought a thing, he told her. Only that she was slim and gorgeous with mounds of dark hair and staggeringly beautiful bosoms and great dark eyes and lips so full that he lost his breath merely looking upon her. And part of the breathlessness he felt took root in the fact that she actually wished to talk with him, him a toad to her fairy princess, short and plain and thin of hair, bespectacled, and not ever what he’d dreamed to be: SAS man, a killing machine, decorated soldier and all the rest. A chance of fate had taken care of that, a badly set leg in childhood rendering him a limping, halting lump of a thing with one built-up shoe and no hope of the military life that would have made him the man he’d known he could be.

They’d talked happily that night at the panto: the coming holiday, the importance of family at Christmas, his parents in Scotland, her mum in London, what they would do, whom they would see. She’d revealed very little; he’d revealed much. Later, when the bell sounded to call the audience back to their seats, he’d slipped her his card and said shyly that if she ever wished to meet for a drink or a coffee or if she would like to see his business . . .

“What sort of business?” was what she asked.

“Repurposing,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“You must see.”

He’d hardly expected anything to come of their meeting, but she turned up at his shop in Whitecross Street not two weeks later. There he sold what he made of what he’d found in car boot sales, estate sales, junk shops, and tips. Huge factory gears fashioned into tables; polo mallets made into lamps; metal garden chairs on which a decent coat of varnish formed a protective patina over an artistic display of rust and chipped paint; other people’s lumber given new life.