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Carpe Diem (working title), Chapter 3 continued...

by el gringo 

Posted: 15 November 2005
Word Count: 1662
Summary: This is the continuation of the chapter I've recently published, comprising the restaurant meeting between Dr Handley, Gordon Evitts and another character you briefly met in another istallment. This should illustrate the question about how connections would be established between some of the characters! The previous section will be edited to spread the content more logically, as kindly suggested by several people.

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Gordon chose a lovely elegant restaurant for our meeting, though not before I’d insisted on coming up to town rather than he ploughing the lonely furrow down to Devon. I was quite insistent that it must not be Wiltons, so he met me at Paddington and drove me to a light and airy place by the Thames with aluminium tables and attentive waiters. Gordon’s always been the same – he won’t conduct any sort of business without feeding his face first. A three square meal a day man is Gordon, as spoken by his jowly features and belly protruding beyond the groaning waistband. He’s always so po-faced about it too – this is truly a formal ritual in his society, the breaking of the bread and drinking of the wine. He’s evidently forgotten all his training in social anthropology.
“Well, this is jolly,” I said as we sat. “Do you know I haven’t had a decent meal since Joe flew in and took me out for my last birthday. We really must do this more often, my dear.”
“How can you be so cheerful, Margaret?” he admonished me in sepulchral tones. Gordon amuses me for so many reasons, but at this point it was because he has the habit of conferring pomposity on even the most innocent sentence. His reply became a self-fulfilling prophecy, forcing my lips against their will into a raucous grin. Gordon gave me a hangdog expression worthy of Hitchcock.
“I’m always cheerful, Gordon. You should know that by now.”
And indeed he should. After all, I first met him as an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 60s. He was without jowls but with the same studied mannerisms of an intensely shy boy pretending to be a man about town. Me, I was a debonair young thing in those days, not greatly taken with the attentions of an intense and secretive student two years younger than I. But of course I slept with him, in spite of myself – it was the 60s after all. Just once, mind, and that was not a success. We’ve never mentioned it since, though we’ve never lost touch in all that time. Great lover he might not have been, but to the world he developed a swagger worthy of Jagger!
Ah, but Gordon could never hide from me the vulnerable quality of a mummy’s boy. So when life threw disasters at him, and he’s certainly had more than his fair share, he came to me with tail between his legs for sympathy if not tea. In hindsight, I believe this is what kept our friendship if not close then imbued with permanence he apparently lacked elsewhere.
So as a post-graduate student with eyes on a fellowship, he was hurled into carpet manufacture against his will; then somewhat reluctantly into marriage with an ambitious wife who was disappointed with what lay under the mask and never gained the consolation of children. Sadly for Valerie, she could not bear to lose face through separation or divorce and instead chose a messy and unpleasant end to her suffering. Gordon perceived it as a dramatic social humiliation, though I believe he came to accept and value the things he had.
Old friends rallied round, chief among them our mutual acquaintance Henry Marshall. Henry was a cheeky junior fellow at University, who later rose through the ranks to professorship in London and who employed me from what I take to be misguided loyalty. I lacked his instinct for the subject matter, not to mention his political antennae. But there was always a price attached to Henry’s favours: mine was undying loyalty to his plans for the department. I wonder whether expensive meals were the price Henry extracted from Gordon. Surely not…
Gordon was busying himself with menus and wine lists while I sat in a reverie. With great care and precision he selected food for us both. I felt inclined to protest but thought better of it.
“You know Gordon, you needn’t have gone to all this trouble,” I continued, but Gordon was evidently mulling over my previous banter.
“It really isn’t funny, you know. Did you not read my journal?” He looked mournfully back at me with the air of Scrooge haunted by the Ghost of Christmas past.
“Well of course I did, silly boy! It did go on a bit, though. And besides, I thought you liked conundrums?”
“Yes, but this is consuming me. I can’t concentrate on the day job. Had to take holiday, and that’s something I never do.” He also enjoys looking hurt, and by God he does it well! An expression I once recall on the face of…which actor was it? Cary Grant? Or Jimmy Stewart? The film I saw on DVD after lunch on Thursday. Tip of my tongue. Ah well, it’ll come back in due course.
I put on my sternest expression, something I usually practice only on my cat, Walter; “What did you do? Chase up some of his colleagues until you found a contact at this debating society, then adopt fancy dress totally out of sorts with your usual sense of deportment to go chasing around their building, where you uncovered some sort of ruckus and escaped within an inch of your life.”
“All true, Margaret. But I’m positive I saw the man behind Henry’s death there, except I don’t know his name. And I can’t leave it there.”
“Why not leave it to the police, my dear?”
Gordon snorted with derision. “It’s been months and there’s been no arrest. No evidence they’re doing anything. And if I go to them with this cock and bull story I’ll be arrested for trespass.”
I sighed rather more heavily than intended. “I know Henry died, and I was most upset myself, but life goes on. Can’t you draw a line under it now?”
“No, I can’t.” he said quietly. “He was my friend and he was murdered. I want to find out what happened.”
Maybe I was irritated by my own lack of action, but I couldn’t stop myself asking the question. The words came without any conscious desire on my part to say them.
“So why didn’t you attend his funeral?”
Gordon sat still for a moment, his fleshy lips slightly parted, but before he could respond my attention was distracted. On a table near the river window, I spotted a sharply dressed young black man sitting at a table with two older businessmen and a woman in a suit and evidently directing the discussion. The young man looked towards our table, apologised briefly to the woman who frowned and looked away, then made his way to our table. Gordon, facing the other direction, saw none of this.
He bowed his head towards me and spoke politely with perfect diction, “Please excuse me for intruding. Mr. Evitts…”
Gordon wheeled around in surprise: “Oh! Mr. Ajayi.” He took the proffered hand and shook it vigorously. “Antoine, this is my old friend Margaret Handley. Margaret, this is Antoine Ajayi. Antoine is my barrister. He’s been handling a small contract dispute for me. We’ll be in court sometime next year with a supplier who…”
Antoine ignored the bluffing Gordon and kissed my hand: “Delighted.”
I must have looked curiously at Gordon because he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I suspect him of harbouring latent prejudices, though this only manifests itself in a stiff formality – an unfortunate trait for a man once with ambitions to be a career anthropologist. Antoine was clearly too important to be shunned.
He continued smoothly: “You must excuse me, Mr. Evitts. I’m lunching with some clients, but I felt it would be rude not to say hello when I saw you here.”
With a click of his fingers, he summoned a waiter and requested three glasses of champagne in perfect French. “I have the good fortune to represent Mr. Evitts in a very important case which I humbly believe we shall win.”
The champagne arrived, so Antoine raised a toast to a successful case. Gordon smiled wanly as though the case were mere frippery.
“Mr. Ajayi, how very kind of you.” I must admit I felt unduly flattered, shame on me. “Gordon, you never mentioned a court case.”
“No, I’ve been wrapped up in…this other business.”
He coughed, but Antoine had already taken the hint. Bowing slightly, Antoine spoke gracefully: “If you will excuse me, I must attend to my other guests. Enjoy your lunch. Bon appétit,” and with that he was gone and making apologetic body language to his other clients.
Gordon looked furtively round to make sure Antoine was out of earshot, then turned back to me. He spoke in an urgent whisper: “You know I’ve got a strange feeling. Seeing Antoine here…I think he was at Redbrook Place when I was there. It was a different context, so I didn’t recognise him.”
“Are you sure?”
Gordon took a deep drink of fizzy wine and looked troubled. “He was driving the van.”
I was astounded. “Why would your barrister be delivering groceries to a debating society? Gordon, that’s absurd!”
“And so it is,” he murmured, looking into the middle distance.
“Surely you must be mistaken?”
Rousing himself, Gordon turned back to me. “No, I’m sure it was Antoine.”
I paused. “So what are you saying? That there’s a conspiracy against you?”
Something clicked in Gordon’s mind. His finger wagged and his mouth hung open. I glanced inadvertently towards Antoine’s table, and immediately did a double take. The table was empty. Antoine and his guests had disappeared as suddenly as they arrived.
Gordon was suddenly transformed. “Eat your meal, I’ll make it up with you.”
“Where are you going?” I squealed.
“To find my barrister,” he replied with resolve, and then he too had departed the restaurant.
I turned back towards my food. “Well, this is a turn-up for the books,” I remember saying to myself. “Perhaps it’s time to look into this strange story.”

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 15:06 on 15 November 2005  Report this post
This reads very smoothly and plausibly. I think I read the former chapters. The plot is intriguing but both characters seem rather unattractive, and I wonder what Margaret's interest is in such a toad-like individual.

'debonair' is only used to describe men, not women.

'he was hurled into carpet manufacture against his will'

Why? Do we know already?

then somewhat reluctantly into marriage with an ambitious wife

Again, why? I thought she must have blackmailed him with pregnancy until I read that they had no children.

“Eat your meal, I’ll make it up with you.” Should be two sentences.

'then he too had departed' I'd write 'then he, too, had departed, but I think I've had this conversation with you before about commas and you are a minimalist int his regard. If so, just ignore.

'I turned back towards my food.' When did it arrive? Was it ordered? Oh, I see it was. I thought you could have made more of it, considering Gordon is such a gourmet and descriptions of food are very popular. However, I can see it might have held things up.

I look forward to develpments.


choille at 17:30 on 15 November 2005  Report this post
Hi There,
this is an interesting read.
... friendship if not close then imbued with [a] permanence he apparently lacked elsewhere.

On a table near the river window, I spotted a sharply dressed young black man sitting at a table with two older businessmen and a woman in a suit and evidently directing the discussion.[whose directing the discussion here? It isn't too clear with the 'and'.]

... I remember saying to myself. “Perhaps it’s time to look into this strange story.”I thought this bit sounded rather staged.
All the best with it.
Look forward to further chapter.

Zigeroon at 14:00 on 16 November 2005  Report this post


Intriguing developments. Loved the disappearing barrister and the end hook. She seems to have dallied long enough I assume she's now going to investigate and reveal all to us poor readers?

Looking forward to next bit.


el gringo at 16:44 on 16 November 2005  Report this post
Andrew, I promise she will get involved though personally I want to downplay the whodunit aspects for a little while and concentrate on the inter-relationships between characters. All will be revealed! ;-)


Jumbo at 21:50 on 23 November 2005  Report this post

As with the last chapter that I read, I enjoyed this. I like the way you show us your characters and then take us so effortlessly into their world.

There are some small typos that need looking at ( should 'three square meal a day man' be 'three-square-meal-a-day-man'?) but none of these detract from the flow of the story and the way in which you pull the reader in.

Howver, I did wonder if Mr Ajayi would have sat down with Gordon and Margaret. Drinking champagne whilst still standing next to the table seemed an odd thing to do. Just a small point!

I look forward to reading more.

All the best


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