This is the third part a free short story, which begins here:
So, Charles Morland has found the body of Henry Beechworth, an apparant suicide, and has sought his friend Fulbeck for comfort and advice. But Fulbeck has not been quite as sympathetic as Morland had hoped.
“There,” Fulbeck said, in his old voice, the one made him sound so tender, so very sincere, “you poor child,” and he was stroking Morland's cheek, his lips, “that was unkind of me. Let's not we two quarrel. I can't bear that. And I've made you weep.”
“I've told you before not to lie to me,” with his thumb, Fulbeck turned Morland's face towards his own. The touch of a cold finger to his cheek, which was held out between then, glistening. “See?” Julian's lips were thin and dark, familiar. “You have had a terrible shock, and for my part, I have been perfectly horrid to you. I should be ashamed. There now,” His eyes were wide and dark, hazel flecked with gold, grey and green.
Morland felt as though he might fall in to them, that he might be lost there.
“I have you. All will be well.”
Yes, all would be well. He felt it brush down through his panic, his grief and fear, falling through him like cherry blossom tumbling from the tree.
“Take all the time you need,” Fulbeck said, and for two, slow breaths, held him there, captured, calm.
Then Morland was released.
He screwed his fists in to his eyes, then, ashamed at the gesture wiped them with his pocket handkerchief. Staring at the carpet spread out beneath him, he tried to gather himself as he focused on the familiar knots and whorls of its pattern, but it was not long before its dark colour made him think of Beechworth, of the cold, sticky blood. He said, “I'm sorry.”
“There's no shame in tears,” said Fulbeck, although his eyes were dry.
“I mean, for disturbing you. I'm sorry.”
“Not at all. You were right to come to me. Now. Where is he?”
“In his rooms.”
Fulbeck nodded. “You left him there? Well, we must assume someone else has found him, and they won't have hesitated to ring for the police. So, we must be careful. I take it no-one saw you leave?”
“One hopes you did not present your card, at least.”
“Julian,” he interrupted, “I... I've already spoken to the police. I rang for them myself.”
“Oh?” There was no anger in the tone, no incredulity, just that coldness.
“I couldn't... I could hardly leave him there.”
Fulbeck's face remained impassive. “Clearly.”
“Are you saying I should have,” he gasped on the thought, “what could I have done? The staff, they-”
Fulbeck made a short, dismissive gesture. “Don't get yourself in a state. We shall simply hope for the best. However, this is important, dear boy, for your sake as much as mine. Were there any papers about our friend? Letters, correspondence, that sort of thing?”
With his hand still shaking, Morland held out the envelope he had taken from Henry's corpse and could not help but see the slight relaxation of Fulbeck's shoulders, the ghost of a smile on his lips. He reached across the space between them and plucked it from Morland's fingers. “The very thing.”
“From which I infer that you did not share this discovery with the constabulary?”
He shook his head.
“Wise.” With deft, white fingers, Julian took the letter from its envelope and unfolded the paper. It was hardly lengthy, a single sheet, and Beechworth's hand was loose, careless. He must have been drunk when he wrote it. The whole thing stank of whisky.
Fulbeck frowned over it for a moment before saying, “He doesn't mention you,” before turning it and glancing at the reverse, “although there are several wild accusations about me.”
“You've read it?”
Fulbeck folded the paper casually, and tore it across in a swift, ruthless motion, “Then I'm sure you understand how much I am indebted to you, Charles.”
“You can't destroy it. What about his parents, what about -?”
“I doubt anyone has ever received comfort from a thing like this,” and Fulbeck ripped it again, harsh, precise, before crumpling the pieces. “Besides, what did you intend to do with it? Publish it? Use it as the basis for your memoirs?” Another breath of laugh, “Or perhaps you wish to explain to the police why you removed it from the scene?”
Morland looked at his shoes.
And before the anger, the resentment could burn up in to anger, there it was, that cool, comforting touch, across his neck, in his hair, pushing his head upwards, brushing across his chin and his lips. “I can see how hard this is for you, dear boy, but we must be pragmatic. You've been very brave. I am in your debt. And it is only thanks to you,” the lightest kiss, laid upon his forehead like the mark of Cain, “that we are both quite safe.”
“But Henry's dead.” It felt wrong, felt sacrilegious for that to be true and for Fulbeck's hands to be travelling across his throat, for them to be loosening his tie, for him to be punctuating his words with little, intrusive kisses, loosening the studs of his collar with his teeth.
“Yes, and that is,” fingers unpicking his tie, “terribly sad. But I don't believe I,” sharpness of nails on his lips, “volunteered for a spell in gaol,” and Julian's lips were less than a breath from his own, “now, did I?”
He knew that he was being manipulated, that Fulbeck was distracting him, but it felt so good to be touched. He welcomed the kiss, eyes closed, feeling something of his old self slipping away.
It was only when he felt Julian's touch on his cheek that he realised he was weeping again.
With one last, desperate plea from that morning, he made himself say, “You didn't do any of those other things, did you?”
Soft, cool lips brushed his skin, tasting the salt of his grief. “Do you credit such things of me?” came the whisper, “do you truly think me capable of that?”
No, not when he had his hands in Morland's hair, not when his voice lilted so, soft and ardent and so very pure. Not with the scent of him, old wood and vanilla, leather and spice.
He let himself be pulled down on to his knees as they sank to the floor together, let his own hands seek out the white silk of Julian's throat, his cold, spare body with all its elegant lines.
When they were done, when his body was bruised by kisses, inelegant with sweat, he lay his head on Fulbeck's thigh. Beneath the bitterness of spending, he could taste a trace of blood in his mouth where his lips had been bitten and torn by passion. It was as though he had been emptied, as though Fulbeck had broken him apart, as though he had seen all the blood and shame, all the horror of the morning, and washed it away with firm, final movements, with water so cold it burned.
In the syrupy heat of the drawing room, he shivered. “What should I-?
“-do now?” Fulbeck swept a hand through his dark hair, “if the police speak to you again, tell them Henry wasn't in his right mind. That he was troubled. Mention that poor girl of his.”
“Mmm. Her. Poor thing. Cigarette?” and when he nodded, Fulbeck pulled the gold case from his jacket, while saying, “they were to be married, weren't they?”
“He hadn't proposed.”
“Oh, but he cared for her,” Fulbeck tapped both on the lid of the case, before leaning over and pushing one between Morland's open lips. His long hair fell down, teasing against Morland's cheeks, eyelids, “everyone knew as much. And such a squalid, hideous business. Can see that upsetting someone as poetic as Beechworth. No. In that context,” He struck a match, and lit their cigarettes together, so that Morland could feel the draw of Fulbeck's breath against his own, “it's hardly surprising, is it?”
“After all,” Morland said, and his voice did not feel quite his own, “it's no different from what Henry put in his note. Not really.”
And the smile came, like a reward.
Well, that's me convinced. Fulbeck's explanation is entirely plausible, they were both just worried about a charge of gross indecency and there is no way that either of them are behaving suspiciously at all. Glad that's all been cleared up.
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Part Four can be read here.
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