When Connie picked Simon up, she took him to Burger King, which was one of his favourite places on earth. She wasn’t entirely sure that they’d be at the party long enough to get anything to eat. While he grinned from behind a massive burger, Connie delved in her bag for baby wipes and adjusted the serviette at Simon’s chin to make sure that he didn’t spill down himself. She wasn’t going to give that family any excuse to mock him. Simon was happy and nothing was going to fracture that happiness.
In the limousine on the twenty minute drive to Windermere, Connie broached the subject of Violet. She’d been picking her moment to tell him, carefully. She had to prepare him for seeing his mother but she didn’t want him going into meltdown and had to handle it delicately. She had too much at stake in this night to risk Simon blowing his stack and making a holy show of them. When he faced his family, she wanted him to do it tall and proud. A man with dignity, just as they’d practised.
‘Simon I’ve got another surprise for you.’
His face lit up and he turned towards her. ‘Connie, Shimon’s all full up with Burger King and shurpridis. Shimon’s gonna go pop. What’s Shurpride?’
Connie laughed, but anybody who didn’t have Simon’s simplistic view of the world would have noticed the tremor and nervousness. ‘Your Mother’s coming to watch our play. Isn’t that fantastic?’ It broke her heart to see his face fall. He hadn’t seen Violet in over two years and those had been the happiest years of his life.
‘Shimon not know, not.’ He spoke sadly. ‘Shimon miss Mummy, some little times, but all some big times, Shimon not miss Mummy. Shimon scared.’
She put her arm around him. ‘Simon, you don’t have to be frightened. We are going to do the play and you are going to be the star of the show, just like we said. Yes?’
‘Yes,’ his eyes were solemn, ‘Shimon Scared.’
‘When you stand in front of all of those people and do your play, your mummy is going to be so proud of you.’
Simon smiled but still looked doubtful.
‘I know, let’s go through it again, just how it’s going to be, so that you are happy that you can get it right and make your mummy proud.’ And mainly to distract him from thoughts of his mother, Connie took him through what was going to happen when they arrived at the hotel.
The party was in full swing when they got there. It had been going since eleven that morning. A tradition that had built up over the years was the Halcyon Woods Summer Garden Party, second only to the Queen’s garden party, and coming second place even to that was debateable in Violet’s eyes. The day had built to be the event in the Windermere calendar, everybody would be there.
During the day everybody with a wallet was welcome. There was entertainment, stalls and food all at a healthy financial premium. They had tournaments, archery, it’s a knockout, the X-Factor face painting, donkey rides and food enough to sink a ship.
The evening was a genteel affair with the Windermere elite staying on to dine in the banqueting hall, an elaborate sit-down meal with after dinner speeches, followed by a string quartet and then a ceilidh for the lively who wanted to dance.
Connie had timed it so that they would arrive in the middle of the speeches. The coffin had been delivered on time and while everybody was occupied inside the banqueting hall, at the back of the hotel she talked to the pallbearers and explained again what they would do. It was a shame that the grand arrival of the four black stallions pulling the white casket, had gone predominantly unnoticed. Giving a cursory glance at the coffin and the flowers, she made sure that everything was in order.
She peeped through the door, waiting for the moment when Violet had positioned herself behind the podium to deliver her speech. Mother duck was at the head of proceedings, in a prime position to see, and be seen.
Connie pressed the button on the ghetto blaster that she had on a wheeled trolley, and gave the nod to the four men holding the tiny coffin.
As it had on the day of the funeral all of those years earlier, the strains of All Things Bright and Beautiful played out among the people assembled. She had gone to great pains to recreate everything exactly as it had been on that day. The flowers were identical. The brass plaque on the top of the white coffin with gold furniture read, In memory of our lovely angel. And the sandbag inside the coffin was similar, if not identical, to the one giving weight to the proceedings on that fateful day, long ago.
The pallbearers walked a slow, dignified death march down the centre aisle of the banqueting hall. At the head of the central walkway they stopped, and waited for Connie to catch up with the trolley. She removed the ghetto blaster, smiled at an old crone at the top table, and put the radio beside her. She turned the music off and there was a deadly hush in the room. You could hear a pin drop.
‘What’s going on? What is the meaning of this outrage? Who are you.’ Violet was red in the face and seething with rage. She hadn’t grasped the implications of what was happening and, as she did, the colour slowly drained from her face.
‘Hey that’s Maria Callas’ James shouted.
‘Connie, what are you doing here?’ said Philip, jumping to his feet.
Connie waved him back down and he sat like an obedient puppy. ‘I need to talk to you, you bitch,’ he said from a seated position, ‘You’ve ruined my marriage.’
‘You got off lightly, mate,’ James screamed.’ She put me in a fucking wheelchair.’
Connie held up her hand for silence and everybody, Violet included who up until that point had been blowing hard out of her mouth like a distended fish, stopped speaking.
From a shelf underneath the trolley Connie brought out a large frame protected with a midnight blue velvet cover. She took her time revealing the portrait before kissing it. She showed it to the audience and then placed it on top of the white coffin, facing Violet.’
The colour had completely left the older woman’s face. She was bleached of tone and bluster, the makeup standing out starkly on her cheekbones. She stared at the portrait of the handsome man, horrified. Groping behind her for the stability of the chair there, she wilted into it in a half faint. Connie thought that, on this occasion, Violet’s dramatics were probably entirely genuine. She felt a thrill of excitement as the culmination of her plan came to fruition. There was no pity in her heart for these people.
The crowd, who had enjoyed their day, feasted at the meal, and resigned themselves to the inevitable speeches, turned to each other asking in confused whispers, what was going on. SP went over to Violet and was bending down beside her. The crowd were thrilled by the new and unexpected entertainment; you could always rely on the Woodses for a bit of scandal. Connie held up her hand for silence and a reverent hush fell upon the room.
‘Some of you here will remember attending a funeral on the third of November nineteen sixty.’ There was a whoosh of whispers around the room and a few of the older people nodded their heads, wondering what the hell was going on.
Violet Woods was very young, then. She’d just had her first child, a boy, born within wedlock, but only by a matter of weeks. He was stillborn and some of you attended his funeral.’ She indicated the coffin with her hand.
‘Jesus, sweet mother of God, she’s only gone and dug `im up.’ One of the locals announced, drawing the sign of the cross on her body as she spoke.
SP was helping Violet to her feet; he was going to take her to her room for a lie down. He called out to Ros to come and assist. Connie swung on them angrily, ‘Leave her alone. Sit back down. She’s not leaving this room until I’ve had my say.’
‘The woman’s mad,’ whined James, she put me in this wheelchair. Somebody call the police.’ Nobody moved.
Connie walked over to the coffin and rested her hand on it. ‘In memory of our lovely angel,’ she read. She picked a bloom from the wreath arranged to form the word SON and brought it to her nose to smell it. She smiled, taking her time before speaking again. Not a single person in that room moved.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, you must be wondering what this is all about. Well, I’m here to introduce you to the baby that was buried back in nineteen sixty three. Of course he’s not a baby any longer, he’s a fine man. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the eldest child of Donald and Violet Woods. Mr Simon Peter Woods.’
The doors at the end of the great room opened with a creak and Simon walked through them. He was beaming and stood very straight, just as Connie had teached him to do. He held the white, word flowers, that Connie had told him spelled out the word MOTHER. He walked very carefully and very slowly counting, one elephant, between each step. It had taken him a long time to stop saying, ‘One elephant,’ out loud and he had to walk up and down his living room a lot of times until he remembered not to say it. His feet hurt him a lot and he worried that all that walking up and down on his nice carpet would make there be no nice carpet left. He was walking on a wood floor now, like his name. That was funny, but he didn’t laugh because that wasn’t part of the play, not. His feet made a big click click click noise, but he wasn’t worried about it because Connie had told him that it might be quietin there, and that it was good if his shoes made a big noise because that was dra-mat-ic for the play. He was worried because in the car Connie had changed it. He was supposed to put the white flowers that spelled the word MOTHER on the white box. But now she said that he had to walk up to Mummy and give her the flowers. If she didn’t take them off him, he had to just put them in her lap and it didn’t matter, not, if she threw them down on the floor ‘cause that might be part of the play, too.
Simon walked up to his mother and offered her the wreath. Violet made a strangled noise in the back of her throat and lifted her hands up in the air, as if the flowers were a snake. Simon was beaming at his mummy. He wanted to make her proud. He really wanted to say hello to her, but Connie was very strict about that. She said that he wasn’t allowed to say anything unless she spoke to him a direct question. That was part of the play. Just like he was told, he turned around by putting his heel down on the floor and lifting his toes up and spinning on his heel. He liked doing that, it was the best bit of the play and very dra-mat-ic. He walked over to Connie but he couldn’t remember if he had to count, one elephant, or not. He was going to get worried and if he got worried, he’d throw a fit and ruin the play. But before he got worried, he had an idea. He would count, one kangaroo, instead, because they were smaller than elephants. He nearly ruined the play because he was used to counting elephants and wasn’t used to counting kangraoos, so he counted them out loud and most of the people watching the play laughed, and some old ladies gave him a big clap and so he did a big bow. Then Connie came over and took his hand and calmed him down and walked with him to the white box.
When Connie had announced him as Simon Peter, SP stood up and demanded to know what the hell was going on. Connie told him to have patience and that all would be revealed. Then she spoke to the crowd again.
‘This man, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Violet’s first born child, but as you can see he isn’t dead. Look at him, Ladies and Gentlemen, he’s magnificent.’
The row of three old ladies clapped again and Simon felt very important. It was a very good play and he was a very good actor as well as a very good singer.
‘So let’s see who, exactly, is in the casket, shall we?’ there was a collective gasp around the room. The replica coffin hadn’t been nailed shut and opened easily. Connie swept the flowers from it and opened the lid. Several people seated at the back of the room, stood up to get a better view.
Connie lifted the bundle of white lace from the casket and a woman five rows back fainted. From the Christening gown, Connie pulled a 2lb sandbag and held it up for the people to see. ‘This ladies and gentleman is what Violet Woods buried that day. This is what was in the grave that she has lovingly tended for the last forty years. And this fine man,’ she pointed at Simon who grinned even bigger, ‘is the son that Violet was so ashamed of that she packed him off into an institution, where he has spent most of his life. He has a condition that I’m sure you are all aware of. Simon has Downs Syndrome,’ Simon mouthed the words along with Connie. It wasn’t part of the play for him to say them too, but he liked saying that he was a fine man with Downs Syndrome so he said those words quietly when she did.
Simon has a condition that makes him different from other people, but if wealth could be measured by the good attributes in a human being then Simon could buy and sell any one of that Woods lot, a thousand times over.’ Simon didn’t understand all of those words but he knew that it was a very important part of the play. The old ladies clapped a lot this time and one of them shouted, ‘Hooray.’ Simon thought that the old ladies liked him very much. Maybe they would invite him to their house one day for tea and cakes because he was such a good actor.
Now they were getting to the next bit of the play. Simon thought this part was a boring and had suggested an awful lot of times that Connie let him sing a song, instead of this bit. He wanted to be centre stage but he didn’t have a big bit in the play again until the end. All he was doing now was passing pictures back and forth to Connie. Anybody could do that. You didn’t need to be a good actor to do it. He wanted to sing a song, but Connie brought him a chair over for him to sit on until it was his time to get up again. Simon was sulking but the old ladies kept smiling at him. The man in the wheelchair, like the one that Bernie Roberts had at Great Gables, kept staring at him. He looked really mad at Simon, so Simon didn’t look at him at all. Maybe he wanted be a great actor man, too, and to get up at the front and do the play, but he couldn’t on account of being in the wheelchair. That was sad.
Connie pulled four pictures out of the cloth. They were a lot smaller than the picture of Simon. Connie said that’s because Simon’s picture was special. She showed the pictures to the people before giving them to Simon to hold.
The man in the wheelchair, and the man who was already standing beside Mummy, and another man who was drunk, and some ladies, were arguing with Mummy about the baby what didn’t die, and about Simon. Simon was confused. Connie didn’t tell him if this was part of the play or not and Simon needed to know. People shouldn’t argue in the middle of the play, not. That was rude. And if they were being rude, Simon wanted to tell them to shut up. But he didn’t know if it was part of the play. Simon decided to tell them to shut up anyway, so he put his finger over his lips. He looked at all the people arguing with Mummy and made a loud shush noise without getting too much spit on his fingers. The old ladies clapped. Simon wanted to see if they would clap if he did something else. So he got the pictures of the boring people that he was holding, and he jiggled them on his lap to make it look as though they were dancing. The old ladies clapped like mad and beamed. Simon beamed back at them. Connie came over to whisper in his ear that he was spoiling the play. Simon thought that was not fair, not. The people arguing with Mummy were making a lot of bad noise and she didn’t shout at them. Connie whispered that it was her bit now. She held her hand up to him and said, ‘Ah ah,’ when he was going to argue, so he didn’t and shut his mouth again. Connie said that if he did anything else that they hadn’t practised he wouldn’t be able to stand up again at the end, and that’s when he got to take a big bow. Connie told him to act out ‘sitting quietly on a chair.’ And then she went back to the people.
Connie took another large picture from the cloth and held it up to the people. This one wasn’t framed like Simon’s picture was, so Simon thought that it might be a little bit special. Connie held the picture out in front of her.
Suddenly every trace of the Spanish accent disappeared from her voice. She spoke in her old voice. She spoke as Julie Spencer. She saw it as Julie making a cameo appearance into her life, for the last time, before she was banished forever. Her voice was deeper than it had been before, but those who had known her as Julie in the past recognised it instantly for what it was.
‘Some of you will know the person in this picture. Her name is Julie Woods and ten years ago she was married to Philip Woods. He was a bad husband and a bad father. He took their little girl and murdered her.’ She wheeled on Philip and screamed at him, ’You killed our daughter, you murderer.’
Nobody seemed to understand what was going on. The drunken man came over and grabbed the picture out of Connie’s hands and looked from it, to her.
‘You’re not Julie. It’s impossible. He was hearing but not believing what was in front of him. You look nothing like her. You can’t be. You’re taller.’ He motioned with his hand how tall Julie had been.
‘I have had twenty seven operations to look like this. I lay in traction in a Russian clinic for six months to gain four inches in height. I’ve had my larynx operated on, almost every part of my body. I learned to speak a new language and I became somebody new, somebody who I really like. When you were unfaithful to your new wife, three nights ago, had sex with me, rutting in my bed like a disgusting animal, you had no idea that you were sleeping with your ex-wife.’
The crowd gasped. This was the best thing they’d seen in the long, scandalous run of the Wood’s time in the village.
The brothers were intrigued, they wanted to hear what she had to say before deciding what to do with her. When Connie told them to bring ‘her,’ she couldn’t even speak Violet’s name, down to the front of the room where they could see and hear what was being said, they agreed. James shouted some obscenities but he wanted to know what this was all about as much as the rest of them. SP had taken heroin that morning to get him though. He’d had to retreat to his room at lunchtime to top up and aid alcohol in carrying him through to oblivion. The image he’d seen in his room was indistinct in his memory, but he had a feeling, creeping though his addled brain cells that he’d seen the woman with the coffin before. With being high he was having greater trouble than the others in grasping what was happening and was happy to sit in an addled daze. Philip was drunk and in shock, like James, he shouted the odd comment from the peanut gallery, but for the most part he was sullen and silent waiting to hear what the woman who had wrecked his life, again, had to say.
Simon had arranged the photographs in order and passed Connie the one of the man with the black glasses, first.
‘Simon Peter the second, Ladies and Gentlemen. A fine upstanding pillar of society, wouldn’t you agree?’ The crowd turned to look at SP. His head had slumped to one side, he was trying to focus and concentrate on what was being said but her moving hands were creating tracers and it was very difficult.
‘He was born an imposter. He was given the title of heir to the Woods’ estate. A title that wasn’t his to own. What kind of sick woman gives her second child the same name as that of her disabled first born? Simon Peter raised, educated, and groomed throughout his childhood to take over the family business. Simon Peter has taken the right of his older brother’s inheritance. He’s taken his name. And while he has lived life with his mouth around a silver spoon, the original brother has mouldered away in a facility away from prying eyes. Simon has never known one moment of maternal love. His mother visited once a week out of a sense of guilt and duty. She resented him for it. Hated him for what he was. Look at the second Simon Peter and compare him to the man sitting over there.’ She pointed at Simon. Every head in the room turned to look at him, except Violet, who had her head hung in shame. It was supposed to be her special day of the year. She was in shock and she hummed quietly to herself.
Simon beamed with pride, but it was really strange hearing Connie talking in the funny voice. He had to concentrate very hard not to laugh
‘Which one, do you think, is the thief, Ladies and Gentlemen? Which one has been stealing form the business for years? Which one is a pathetic heroin addict? And which one do you think is a son that any mother could be proud of because he’s sweet and funny and kind? Which one of them is a good man, would you say?’
‘Hey hang on,’ SP slurred, trying to get to his feet and failing. ‘that’s slander.’
‘Shut up, or get out,’ Connie spat at him. ‘You are a worthless human being. What kind of husband have you been? What kind of man?’ SP had sunk into his chin, his outburst had taken the last of his energy and he had no more to say. James shouted in defence of his brother but Connie told him to be quiet or she’d have him wheeled out of the room.
Connie handed the photo of SP back to Simon and he passed her the next one. This one had a red jumper on.
‘John Woods,’ Connie began, ‘Thief, gambler, swindler, and womaniser. Are we starting to see a pattern emerging? He conned his mother out of thousands over the years. She bailed him out of trouble when his gambling got out of control, time and again. What kind of father was this man when he was out bedding hundreds of women during the course of his marriage? He’s dead now. And good riddance.’
The next picture was the one of the man with the long hair and the beard.
‘Of the five Woods boys who were allowed to grow up in the wealth and splendour of the family home, Andrew is probably the best of the bunch.’ Several of the crowd nodded and some muttered their agreement. ‘He’s no longer with us, but the world is a far better place without him.’ Somebody made a comment about not speaking ill of the dead, but Connie continued.
‘This man was a thief, also. He forged clocks and watches and made vast amounts of money with his forgeries. He was involved in gang crime, the money that he brought to the mafia from his crime spree bought arms and drugs. He was also a drug addict. He brought his children up in a commune, regularly sleeping with women who weren’t his children’s mother. He grew drugs on his property; all bought form his illegal gain, lived a live of loose morals, and immersed himself in crime until the day he died’
Philip wept quietly for his dead brothers as though Connie had read out a sweet eulogy to them. ‘Andrew was a good man,’ he shouted to her belligerently.
She took up the second to last photo and glared at James. The crowd all looked at him too. ‘This man is a thug. He has gone through life beating his wife and brawling, when he thinks that his evil temper will carry him though. He has bullied, often to the point of breaking people with a weaker character than his own. He has driven people to suicide. He has to wear a dress to come down from the stress and pressure of always being the hard man, bawling people out, fighting. Inside he’s just a frightened little boy. Every time he’s ever seriously hurt somebody, Mummy has signed a cheque and got him off the hook. He’s scum, pathetic.’
‘You put me in this wheelchair, you fucking bitch.’
‘No, you fool, you put yourself in it. Did I force you into an illegal backstreet brawl with a Neanderthal thug? No, you begged me to set it up for you, you vain, egotistical, pathetic, human being.’
She replaced James’s photo with Phil’s and Simon playing to the audience in general, and his old ladies in particular, spread his hands to show that they were empty because he’d been putting the used pictures under his chair so that they didn’t get mixed up. When he spread his hands and made a surprised face, he looked at his ladies, but they didn’t clap. They were all staring at Connie, listening closely to every word that she said. Simon really went into a sulk now. If they weren’t going to give him no more big claps, he might not even bother getting up and doing the great acting in the play. He might not even take his big bow at the very end. And when they send the invitation to go to their house for tea and cakes, he might just tell them, ‘No thanks you,’ and not go, but that all depended on what kind of cakes it was.
Connie studied the picture of Philip and then looked from that to the man, in person, before turning the photograph around for the people to see. ‘Thank you for bearing with me because, you see, I’ve almost saved the best until last. I’ve run out of photos but there’s still one left to tell you about after Philip Woods, my ex-husband. Philip Woods,’ she repeated the name as though she was tasting the words in her mouth. I’ve already told you that he took my little girl out and killed her. She drowned in the pond only a few feet away from where you’re sitting. Accident, they all said. It was no accident. It was murder by way of neglect.’
Phil jumped out of his seat and although he’d sobered a great deal since Connie’s entrance, he staggered and almost fell over. ‘You’re evil. You’re nothing but evil coming here with a coffin and all your games, that’s just sick.’
‘And who made me sick, Philip? Who spread the evil and infected me with it? Who took sweet little Julie Spencer and turned her into somebody filled with hatred and rage? You did, you bastard.’
Simon did the surprised face and covered his mouth with his hand, it was partly because he wanted to get in the play, but it was more because Connie used the dirty word. ‘Dirty word,’ he shouted loudly and some people laughed. That made him feel better, but most people were still looking at Connie and the drunk man. ‘Dirty word, dirty Bird,’ he shouted, trying for another laugh.
‘Be quiet, Simon,’ Connie said, and she sounded annoyed with him so he put his head down and thought about going on a big plane to Spain and then he forgot all about being in a sulk. She turned her attention back to Philip.
‘That’s not all you did though, is it Phil. Should we tell Mummy about the blackmail?’
Phil’s eyes darted around the room. For a second, Connie seriously thought that he was going to make a run for it rather than have her saying anymore. He was more worried about conning a few quid out of his mother than he was about taking his daughter’s life. ‘Shut up, and get out of here, you evil witch. Haven’t you upset my family enough?’ He didn’t stop to wait for a reply, which Connie felt was a great shame because she had an answer ready for him. ‘
‘Yes, make her go away, Philip. I don’t like her’ Violet spoke for the first time and raised her head as she spoke as though examining Connie to see if she really was that awful Julie creature from the past.
‘That was the problem, you old demon, you never did like me, did you. You never gave me a chance. You looked at my background, found me lacking and did everything within your power to stop Philip from marrying me.’
‘Simon Peter, Philip, she’s being nasty to me. Make her stop.’
‘Oh shut up, I’ll get to you, in a minute.’
‘What does she mean? Why’s she saying that she’s going to get to me? I don’t know her.’
‘Shush mother and listen,’ said James. ‘This is just starting to get good.’ Philip glared at his brother and SP was beyond caring he had passed out in his chair.
‘You always did like confrontation, didn’t you, James? Always there waiting to stick the knife into me. You were the one with a hateful remark about my figure.’ James was still having a hard time equating the stunner who’d shafted him, with his weedy little ex-sister-in-law.
‘What figure? You didn’t have a figure, love; you were an ugly little weeble. Mind, I’ve got to say you look fit enough now. And you see me here in this wheelchair? I can still smash your plastic face in and put it back how it used to be. Think I won’t?’
She turned an icy stare onto James and made a point of looking down on him in his chair. ‘I have no doubt for one single second that if you had the intelligence to find me that you wouldn’t hesitate in inflicting violence on me. After all, that’s what you’re good at, hurting women. But come on, James, let me play. You like a bit of salacious gossip, don’t you. I bet you a fiver, you want to know what your little brother’s been up to.’
James smiled equally coldly, but gestured with his hand to give her the floor. She took it. ‘Philip has known about Simon for a long time.’
Violet’s head shot up. Connie had her attention. And Violet was still shrewd enough to be able to pull herself out of her weakening mind when she had a need to. She stared at Connie with rapt attention.
‘Philip’s thing was watching people, listening at doors, spying and turning his nasty, sly little character into an object for poking into other people’s lives. Violet used to visit Simon religiously, every Wednesday afternoon.’
Simon sighed; he was bored with the proceedings now. He didn’t expect the play to be this long, but he couldn’t stop himself form piping up, ’Shimon no like Webnudsday, not.’
‘Wednesday’s weren’t pleasant for him. His mother was cruel and bullied him.’
‘Oh you wicked girl. I most certainly did not. I always did what I could for the boy. How can you say such a horrible thing?’
One afternoon, Philip followed Violet to see where she went every week. He did some digging, asked some questions and learned everything that he wanted to know. He knew from being a teen that he had an older brother with Downs Syndrome. He even hid outside the home one day and watched Simon getting on his school bus.’
‘Is this true Philip, and have you really been having an affair with this vile woman? Is that why Danielle is not here?’ Violet asked?’
Connie continued to talk over her, doing Philip the favour of not having to answer his mother. ‘When Philip found out that he had another brother, did he confront his mother and beg her to bring the lad home, so that he could be with his family where he should have belonged, but never did? No. Like Violet, he was ashamed of what Simon was. But he didn’t just ignore it. He used the situation to blackmail his mother. It’s all in the diaries Violet. Philip was the one who was blackmailing you to keep your dirty secret, all those years ago.’
‘That can’t be true. It was a professional blackmailer. It was somebody who threatened to ruin me.’
‘And that’s exactly what your youngest son became. You weren’t his first; John had also used a poor girl in his class at school for sex. Afterwards, Phil blackmailed her; it’s all in the diaries, those and hundreds more. Unbeknown to anybody, Philip has been blackmailing the people of this town for thirty years.
Pennies began to drop all over the room and customers from present and past, hearing who their blackmailer was, rose from their seats. Phil ran from the room with half a dozen men behind him. Violet was weeping. James who was evil to the point that it reached his brain, was grinning. Sensing a fight and still fancying his chances, despite the chair, he wheeled himself to the door in Phil’s wake. Connie looked around the room, she recognised several other people from the blackmailing diaries, sitting next to their spouses and looking terrified. They didn’t move or say a word. She quietly caught the eye of them all and empathised with them.
SP was still unconscious; the brothers were either dead, passed out, or out of earshot. Ros was there, of course, and a couple of Andrew’s grown up kids, but for the final showdown, it was just Connie and her nemesis.
Connie looked Violet in the eye and the other woman looked away.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Violet sounded pathetic.
‘Come on Violet. Don’t make this a battle of the weak against the strong. You might have this lot fooled, but I know that there isn’t a weak bone in your body. You’re as tough as old boots, so let’s see you give me a fight, eh?’
‘I’m an old woman.’
‘You’re an old fool.’
‘Do you know, Violet, your reputation has always meant everything to you. It was more important than any of your children, than your marriage, maybe even than your God, but do you know what you are? What you have always been? You’re a joke. People in this town laugh at you. They always have done. Mother Duck and her five little ducklings. Nobody ever knew that there were six, did they?
‘People don’t laugh at me. I’m highly respected in this town.’ There were a few bold titters. And somebody shouted out ‘Quack. Quack.’
Simon liked doing farm animals and he took up the quack and quacked several times more, before dropping into a deep moo. Connie didn’t bother to shut him up.
‘When I met Phil, I was only a kid myself. I thought that I was in love. You were right about one thing. I never did love him. He was an impossible man to love back then. You decided before you’d even met me, that I wasn’t good enough for your son. In fact, it didn’t even have anything to do with Philip. You decided that I wasn’t good enough for you, and you were vile to me. You made my life a misery. You called me a heroin addict, when I’d never touched drugs in my life. Well, Violet, look at your son passed out and dribbling there. That’s what an addict looks like. Did you ever once se me like that? You called me a prostitute. Didn’t your precious James get done for prostituting himself to men, in a dress? You called me a gold digger. Your children have dug gold from you from the moment they could walk. Maybe that’s the reason you never breast fed, they’d have had the silver out of your fillings while they sucked.’
‘You filthy woman. See everybody. See what she is, with her dirty mouth?’
‘Go`arn, lass,’ one of the men said.
‘You were nothing when my son met you.’
‘That’s right Violet, you said he picked me out of the gutter, didn’t you?’
‘And so he did. He should have left you there to be eaten by rats.’
‘Look at your own family, Violet, and then look at mine. You’ve got money, but pound for pound you’ve got a hell of a lot more gutter than I have.’ Some of the crowd laughed.’
‘She tried it on with my dear departed husband once,’ Violet shouted. ‘She exposed herself to him.’ that shocked the crowd and they straightened up to see what the outcome of the allegation would be.
Connie hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, and then realisation dawned. She laughed. ‘I fed my child in his presence.’
‘Ahh,’ the crowd said, disappointed at the anti-climax.
‘So what have you come here for Julie, just to exact your warped revenge?’
‘No. I have a clearer reason. But Julie isn’t here Violet. She died when her daughter did. My name is legally Consuela Vengarse. You can call me what you like, but I know who I am.’
‘You’re a trollop and a hussy. That’s what you are.’
‘That’s as maybe but you asked why I’ve come back.’ She called Simon over and he stood up beside her. She held his hand.
At that moment the doors at the back of the room swung open and a tall lady in a tailored suit and high stiletto heels walked up to Violet. The lady was called Monica Dupont. She was a solicitor, a ballbreaker, who usually only went after men, but on this occasion she was happy to take this family out from the rotten matriarch to every putrid apple on the tree. In ten years, she had never forgotten the story that Julie Woods had told her about her marriage, and the way that the entire family had treated her. Monica had looked down on Julie. She had thought her weak. She had turned her business away because she wouldn’t financially destroy her husband. Monica had been wrong and that was a seldom felt experience for her. She was astute when it came to people and was used to being right. The women had become friends, and Monica admired Connie for what she’d made of herself, despite the Woods’ repression.
‘Mrs Violet Woods?’
‘Yes, and who are you?’
Monica handed her the envelope. ‘Of course you can open that privately later, but just to let you know what it contains. That is a summons for you to appear in court two weeks from today. I am representing Mr Simon Peter Woods,’ she paused, ‘the elder,’ she finished. There were some titters around the room. ‘We are bringing a case against you to have Mr Woods affirmed in his rightful title as heir of the Halcyon Woods Hotel. We will bring an independent injunction against you granting that Mr Woods does receive his one sixth share, of all assets, on the event of your death, further to this, we are seeking to claim a like wise amount, based on a rough average approximation of everything that your other sons have had over the years to be paid to Mr Woods, immediately. You will find all the paperwork and reports relevant to our case, inside the envelope.
Violet smiled, and looked around the assembled people smugly. ‘My dear woman. I would like to see the credentials that declare you a competent solicitor. Surely, you must know that you can’t possibly represent that man in court. He’s—‘ Connie cut in. ‘He’s your son Violet. Say it. Say that he is your son.’
‘That man is no son of mine. I denounce him.’
‘You wicked bitch,’ somebody shouted.’
‘And as I was about to say before the guttersnipe interrupted me, you can’t represent him in court because he isn’t of sane body and mind. He is incompetent and not capable of knowing what’s in his best interests. That, my dear is why, I am his legal guardian.’
‘Yes, you’ve got me there Mrs Wood’s, that’s true, you are. But last Tuesday Senora Consuela Vengarse applied to the court and laid before them the extenuating circumstances of Mr Woods maternal neglect and cruelty. She applied for, and was granted, the position of Guardian ad litem to Mr Woods. A guardian ad litem is an independent person who is appointed only to take into account the best interests of her ward. Ms Vengarse is now responsible for Mr Wood’s welfare, that includes his financial welfare. So I think you’ll find that, as well as my excellent credentials for the post that I hold, everything in that envelope is legal and above board. Ten years ago I wanted to take your weasel of a son for everything he had. Connie wouldn’t let me have him, so I’ve waited a long time for this Mrs Hoity Toity hotel owner. I’m going to take you for everything that I can legally get on behalf of Simon. And when I’ve finished with you, I’m going to spit you out like a dirty rag. I’ve been looking at every loophole in the law. At the moment it stands that your assists must be split six ways, between your living sons, and the surviving offspring of your dead ones. But believe me, lady, if there is any way possible that I can take this whole pile of rubble for my client. I’m going to find it, so you’d better have yourself a good solicitor because I’m looking forward to meeting him.’ With that Monica took a deep breath. It had been one hell of a speech. She hugged Connie, high fived with Simon, and left the room with her high heels tap tapping her, all the way out of the door.
Connie smiled. Violet looked done in. And the people who had paid ticket money for entertainment that night, weren’t disappointed. ‘Thank you for your time and patience everybody. I’m going to leave now, but I think I’ll let Simon have the last work, if you don’t mind.’
This was Simon’s big moment; He stood with a huge grin on his face and looked around at all of the people. Mummy didn’t look very proud of him yet, but she would be when he’d done his great acting.
‘Shimon Woods is I?’ he began.
‘I am Simon Woods,’ Connie whispered, correcting him.
Simon cleared his throat and started again. ‘I am Shimon Woods. Shimon is a very great singer. Shimon is a very great actor. Shimon is always good to other people. Shimon is a fine man.’ He stopped and puffed up his chest. He put one arm behind his back and bowed low. When he rose he shouted out above the noise of the crowd clapping him and whistling…
‘I am Shimon Woods.’