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Day twenty-six – Game on

November 26, 2017

I am pleased to report that once again I got more boos than the official villain at the matinee performance yesterday, although he beat me during the evening show.


So it’s game on for the final performance this afternoon.

Today’s unfinished novel chapter.



Adam Callaghan, the RADA-trained eldest son of bankrupted gentry, shot to fame at the age of thirty-two with his portrayal of a brooding Mr Rochester in the BBC’s umpteenth remake of Jane Eyre. This success was followed quickly with a twelve-part period pot-boiler which elevated him to sex symbol status in Britain and also did quite well for its producers on public television in the US and other English-speaking corners of the planet.

After that he had his enviable pick of theatre, television and film roles in Britain, the sort of success with which most creative people might have been well satisfied. But Adam was not a writer or painter or composer. He was an actor with an actor’s innate desire for global adoration. And, of course, the only place capable of bestowing global adoration was Hollywood. When the call came, his bags were literally if not actually packed. He took off like a shot to star in what turned out to be quite possibly the worst romantic comedy ever produced.

Undaunted by dire reviews, he stayed on in Lotusland. A second role, this time as the compulsory English villain in an action adventure film, drew warmer but still tepid notices. A very lean period followed, culminating in the offer of a television series in which he played a hapless English professor, uncle and guardian of two terminally cute American orphans. The show was cancelled after a mere six episodes.

This humiliation was the final straw. He packed his bags once more and returned to England, where, he knew, his talent was appreciated. Unfortunately for Adam, just as he had turned his back on England, she had turned her back on him. In the fourteen years since his return, roles had been minor and infrequent.

The pill he’d had to swallow was bitter and, as Tilly could see the moment she opened the door, so was he.  It was clear in the vertical lines firmly etched between his eyebrows and in the down turned corners of his mouth, which, when she’d known him had always promised – and usually delivered – a smile. The blue eyes, much paler than her own, which had once sparkled with mischief now held no glint of joie de vivre. Although his jaw line was still firm, there were definite hints of the jowls to come. The once extraordinary burnished bronze hair was thinning and receding, faded with grey to a dull sandy colour. He looked haggard and somehow she knew this could only be partially explained by the day’s traumatic events.

Tilly, who had just been despairing of her reflection in the mirror, knew at a glance that the intervening years had been kinder to her than they had been to Adam. The thought, though depressing, made her smile. And when she did, everything about his visage changed. Suddenly the sparkle was back in his pale blue eyes, suddenly the down turned corners of his mouth lifted. Suddenly, but oh so predictably, he posed a very serious threat to her peace of mind.

Adam opened his arms in clear expectation of a hug for-old-time’s-sake. “Matilda,” he said, his voice soft, warm and inviting.

Tilly ignored the gesture and stood back a pace to let him enter, then led the way up the narrow stairs to her flat. She turned back in time to see him duck slightly as he passed through the door frame into the lounge. They had once, at her insistence, measured the frame to prove  there was an inch of clearance for his six foot four inches, but he’d continued to duck reflexively. Damn, damn, damn, she thought, as Adam’s gaze ran quickly around the lounge, taking in the mirror over the mantle and the many other familiar objects, I should never have let him come here.

He still had the graceful gait of the athlete he’d once been. Did he, she wondered, still play cricket? Still ride? Still do all those countryish things that were the antithesis of their London time together?

Without being instructed to do so, he sat down on the sofa, crossing one long leg elegantly over the other, looking ridiculously at home.

“Matilda,” he said, the smile on his face taking her back twenty years to a time and a place she had no wish to be, “thank you for giving me sanctuary. I had absolutely no right to ask.”

“No,” she agreed, keeping her tone firm, “you bloody well didn’t.”

She crossed to the sideboard and withdrew the whiskey bottle, holding it up to suggest he could have a glass if he wished. Adam nodded his head, his smile deepening, becoming even more intimate. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she thought as she poured him a generous measure. It was, she belatedly remembered, Adam who’d introduced her to the smoky delights of Laphroaig, a fact which clearly hadn’t escaped his memory. Handing him the glass and refusing to return his smile, Tilly perched herself on the edge of the Queen Anne chair. Nothing on earth could have persuaded her to share the sofa with Adam.

“I’ve done some checking,” she said without preamble. “The police do think you tried to kill your wife.”

Adam took a sip of whiskey, then leaned forward to place the glass carefully on a coaster on the cherry wood coffee table. He looked at Tilly and nodded. “But you don’t, do you?”

Tilly leaned back in her chair, ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know what I think, Adam. I have no idea whether or not you shot Laura. All I know is, if you wanted to kill her, she wouldn’t be alive to say you’d tried.”

There was a hint of irony in his smile as he inclined his head to acknowledge acceptance of her words. He reached into the pocket of his tweed jacket and pulled out a cigarette case. Tilly’s eyes widened at the sight of it. Anyone else attempting to carry off the use of a silver cigarette case would have looked hopelessly affected, but not suave, elegant, urbane Adam. In his hand it was the most natural prop imaginable. That’s why Tilly had bought it for him nineteen years ago.

“Did you dig that out just to impress me?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Believe it or not, I’ve used this every day since you gave it to me.”

She didn’t believe it and let her expression say so. Adam flipped the case open and held it out towards her. Tilly hesitated. She could, of course, smugly inform him that she’d quit several years ago and was surprised to see he was still hastening his own demise, but, glancing at the proffered case, she knew the satisfaction would be short lived. She could see the little camels decorating the sides of the cigarettes – yet another thing they’d had in common. Unless she refused to let him smoke, which she wasn’t going to do, she knew she’d be reaching for the case as soon as she caught one whiff of his cigarette.

Oh, what the hell, she thought, pulling a cigarette out of the case and accepting a light, just this one. Unlike the fossilised fag she’d lit up in the kitchen, this one tasted wonderful. The smoke filling her lungs felt like the homecoming of an old and dear friend. Her nerve endings tingled. Oh, God, she thought, seven bloody years and now I’m going to start again, just like that.

She looked at Adam and thought, It’s all your bloody fault. If he read anything into her expression, he gave no sign, simply gesturing towards the coffee table, which contained no ashtray. Tilly got up, went into the kitchen and poked around in the back of the cupboard for one of the ashtrays she kept in case smoking friends came round. After rejecting four ashtrays which she’d either bought with or been given by Adam, she pulled out a wonderfully kitschy New York souvenir ashtray and carried it back to the lounge.

Adam leaned forward to flick his cigarette. She could see him smile at the sight of King Kong clinging to the Empire State Building. When he looked up at her, his eyes were once again filled with an intimacy which was either wildly misplaced or wonderfully acted. “God, I’ve missed you,” he said.

“Bollocks.” Tilly stubbed her cigarette out. Fuck. Why had she done that? She’d wanted that cigarette. Now she was going to look like a prat, stubbing it out, then immediately re-lighting it. She took a swig of her whiskey instead.

“It’s true,” he protested, eyes blinking rapidly. “I have missed you.”

Tilly gave him the same stare she’d used over the years to turn many an adversary into putty in her hands. Adam had the grace to look uncomfortable. Gotcha, she thought, you lying bastard. “That would be why you took so much trouble to stay in touch, would it?”

He uncrossed his legs and leaned towards her, elbows on knees. “I rang you on your thirtieth birthday.”

Tilly’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, yes? Funny. I don’t remember that.”

“Well, you wouldn’t. You were away. I tried several times for two or three days.”

Tilly thought back. Beirut. She’d been in Beirut on her thirtieth birthday. She could clearly picture the party the press corps had thrown for her in the bombed out bar. She narrowed her eyes, considering Adam’s earnest expression. Lucky bloody guess. She’d been a foreign correspondent. She was always away on her birthday in those days. What the hell? Let him have that one. Pretend she believed him. She reached for the cigarette she’d abandoned in the ashtray, discovered she’d broken it, pulled another one out of his still open case.

“My thirtieth birthday was twenty years ago. Still, I suppose two phone calls in two decades does count as staying in touch. A few more bodies tumbling around your house and who knows? We could be on the phone with one another every day.”

“You could have phoned me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, Adam. You were supposed to be coming back in five months, not five bloody years.”

He shrugged, his expression switching to sheepish but sincere. “I thought you were better off without me.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Tilly let her head fall back against the chair. “Please spare me Adam Callaghan doing noble.” She lifted her head and looked at him. “You’re an actor, so you probably can’t help being a self-centred asshole. I don’t care. Just don’t try to pretend to be anything else.”

“Matilda, I – ”

Tilly held up a silencing hand. “Shut up, Adam. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to be having this conversation. You caught me off guard when you rang out of the blue this afternoon. I should never have invited you round. I know why you called me and so do you, but it’s not going to do you much good in a court of law, is it? So, what do you want? Really?”

New expression: contrition. “You’re right, Tilly,” he said. She noted the switch to ‘Tilly’ from ‘Matilda’, which he’d finally figured out wasn’t getting him anywhere. “Obviously, what you know can’t help me.” He picked up his glass and took a sip of whiskey. A slight, self-deprecating smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “Would you believe me if I told you I just wanted to be with someone who wouldn’t doubt my innocence? By the time the police were finished with me I was beginning to suspect myself.”

He glanced at her hopefully, looking for some encouragement, which she refused to give. All he got was a Get On With It look. He reached up and rubbed his left eye with the back of his hand.

“Okay,” he said eventually, “here it is. Laura and I have been rowing rather a lot lately. Loudly and frequently in public. She may be able to produce people who will testify that I threatened to kill her a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t mean it, of course, but I did say it in the heat of the moment.”

“What have you been rowing about?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

Adam lit another cigarette, inhaled and blew two streams of smoke out through his nostrils. He looked at her and grimaced. “You. We’ve been rowing about you.”

“Me?” Tilly was absolutely flabbergasted. “Why the hell would you be rowing about me?”

“Laura’s got it into that demented brain of hers that I’ve started seeing you again and that I want a divorce so I can marry you.”

Tilly took a deep breath. Things were progressing, far too rapidly, from the sublime to the ridiculous. “Why would she think that, Adam?”

He shook his head, as if unable to believe what he was about to say. “She found an article I’d cut out of the paper. It was the one you wrote a few months back about Charles Ormond and General Radad and the seeds.” He checked to see how she was taking this and realised the answer was not very well. “I was proud of you when I saw the by-line. I wanted to keep the article. Laura found it in my desk.”

“That’s it?” Tilly’s tone was incredulous.

Adam shrugged. “I told you she was demented.”

Tilly grasped the arms of her chair, not at all sure that if she didn’t hold on tightly the room wouldn’t start reeling. “I suppose,” she said, her voice sounding a lot steadier than she felt, “that next you’re going to tell me Laura’s repeated this to the police?”

“God knows. Probably.”

Tilly shot out of her chair and stared down at Adam, eyes wide, nostrils flaring with rage. “Well, thank you very fucking much, you ridiculous cretin.” She began gesticulating wildly. “Your wife is in hospital in Cambridge telling the police you tried to kill her because of me and the first thing you do is come here?  What the hell are you playing at?”

Adam spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I’m sorry, Matilda. I didn’t think how it would look.  I just wanted to – ”

“Too bloody right you didn’t think,” she said, cutting him off. “I don’t believe this is happening.” She crossed the room to the door of the lounge and swung it open. “Come on.” She waved her hand through the door. “Out. You are going back to your bloody mansion, where you are going to get down on your hands and knees to clean up blood stains and look as if you care that someone broke into your house today and shot your wife – assuming that is what happened.”

“Matilda, I – ”

She cut him off again. “Out. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. I am not going to get dragged into this. Get the hell out of my flat.”

If he’d been planning to protest, he thought better of it. With a tight-lipped smile, he nodded, pocketed his cigarette case and lighter, then stood up. Before he could take a step towards the door, the phone rang. Adam glanced at the ringing instrument, which Tilly had planned to ignore. “That might be the police,” he said. “I had to give them a number where I could be reached.”

What?” Tilly let the door swing shut. “You told them you were coming here?” Adam nodded. “I don’t fucking believe this.” She crossed the room and yanked the receiver out of the cradle. “Tilly Arbuthnot.”

“Tilly! Hi!” said an oily voice.  “It’s Kevin.”

Tilly needed no time to put an oily face and identity to the oily voice. Jesus Christ. Kevin Warner, better known as Kevin Wanker, the deputy editor of the oiliest tabloid paper in the country. She had a very bad feeling she knew why he was ringing. “What do you want, Kevin?” she asked in her most no-nonsense voice.

“Well, actually, Tilly, I wanted to have a word with Adam Callaghan.”

Tilly’s stomach felt as if it was sinking through the floor. She shot Adam a look which would have withered most men. “And why would you be ringing here to speak to Adam Callaghan, Kevin?”

Adam walked over to her and leaned his head towards the receiver. Tilly moved it away from her ear just as an oily laugh came down the line. “Come on, Tilly,” Wanker said, “we know he’s there.”

We? thought Tilly. Why had Wanker said we, not I? With a sense of dread, she put the phone down and leaned across her desk to pull the lace curtain away from the window. Sure enough, on the other side of the narrow cobbled road two individuals, whose demeanour somehow just screamed ‘gutter press’, were staring up at her. She groaned. Adam leaned forward to see why. As he did, the photographer raised his camera, aimed it at the window and started snapping.

Tilly let the curtain drop and sank onto her desk chair. She’d just fallen for the oldest, the cheapest and the nastiest trick in the book.


From → SFSS Challenge

One Comment
  1. krysross permalink

    Is there more?

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