The Crime Readers' Association

Where there’s a will, by Bill Daly

This was not how I’d envisaged spending my twenty-first birthday. It should have been a day of celebration, even more so as Mr Chamberlain had come back from Munich yesterday with the joyful news that there was to be peace in Europe.

‘My sincere condolences, Sarah,’ Mr Richmond mumbled. ‘And so soon after….’ Richmond’s voice tailed off as he lifted a buff envelope from his desk drawer and removed the contents with a trembling hand. ‘I will now proceed with the reading of your mother’s will,’ he intoned. Richmond had been our family’s solicitor for as long as I could remember, but I’d never seen him in such a state of agitation. However, after the reading of my father’s will, a year ago to this very day, who could blame him?

As Richmond cleared his throat, a sense of déjà vu enveloped me as the memory of the events of a year ago came flooding back. The same musty office, Richmond wearing what appeared to be the same grey, pin-stripe suit, his half-moon glasses balanced on the point of his nose.

 

The thing that stuck in my memory about my father’s death was that I’d had to cancel my twentieth birthday party. It was as if he’d deliberately timed his demise to spoil the festivities – that would have been typical of the man.

The only son of a British army colonel, my father had spent his formative years immersed in military culture. Having served with distinction during the Boer War, he suffered a serious injury at Mafeking and was invalided out of the army, thereafter taking up a position in the City.

Father didn’t marry until he was in his fifties – and then a most unlikely match – my mother being almost thirty years his junior. Father’s sole motivation for getting married was a sense of duty towards the continuation of the Rushport family name. As it transpired, I was his only child, and he made no attempt to hide the fact that he resented me because I wasn’t male.

My mother, Anne, was a petite woman with short brown hair and a highly freckled complexion. Brought up on a farm in Yorkshire, her passion in life was riding to hounds, though she got precious little opportunity to do so after she was married. Her motivation for marrying my father was hard to fathom. While in his company, she was invariably reserved and his wishes were always respected. However, when he wasn’t present, she displayed an unexpected vivacity and a quite mischievous sense of humour.

Father retired from the City when I was still at school. In retirement, as in every other aspect of his life, a strict routine had to be observed. Every morning, as soon as The Times was delivered, he would turn to the crossword and nothing would be allowed to interrupt him until he had completed the puzzle.

Every Friday night, Father played bridge. At seven fifteen precisely, Stanley, his chauffeur, would drive him to his club, returning at eleven o’clock to bring him home.

Although I had little empathy with the man, it still came as a shock when Mother told me he had passed away in his sleep. My initial reaction was anger and resentment that he had contrived to ruin my twentieth birthday celebrations, but these feelings soon dissipated and my thoughts were for my mother. She bore up well at the funeral and everything passed off without incident – that is, until we went to Mr Richmond’s office for the reading of the will.

As today, seated behind his mahogany desk, Richmond had produced a buff envelope from his desk drawer. I had no illusions about the contents, Father having taken great delight in informing me that I would be left precisely nothing. Extracting the will from the envelope, Richmond read aloud. ‘This is the last will and testament of Charles Winston Rushport. To Stanley Hawkey, my chauffeur, I leave a legacy of one thousand pounds.’ Richmond’s voice then became croaky. ‘The remainder of my estate is to be divided equally between my wife, Anne Rushport, and Miss Sharon Turpen.’

I turned to Mother who was sitting bolt upright in her chair, her face expressionless.

‘What’s this all about, Mr Richmond?’ I demanded. ‘Who on earth is Sharon Turpen – and what connection did she have with my father?’ Richmond didn’t respond. ‘This is ridiculous!’ I said. ‘Mother is entitled to everything – apart from the legacy to Stanley, of course. This will cannot be genuine,’ I insisted, snatching the form from Richmond’s hand and staring at what was indisputably my father’s flowing handwriting and his bold signature.

Mother put a restraining hand on my arm. ‘I suspected something like this might happen, Sarah.’ She hesitated. ‘You need to know about the circumstances surrounding your father’s death.’ I glanced across at Richmond who was sitting with his head bowed. ‘Mr Richmond is aware of the situation,’ Mother said quietly. ‘When I told you your father had passed away in his sleep, that wasn’t the whole story. In fact, Stanley found him dead last Friday night – the result of a heart attack.’ I gave Mother a perplexed look. ‘Apparently,’ Mother continued, ‘for the past few years, your father hasn’t been going go to his bridge club on Friday evenings. Instead, Stanley has been taking him to the Sedgwick Arms Hotel where he had a regular assignation with a young lady – called Sharon Turpen, I believe. It transpires that your father had a reservation for room twenty-four every Friday evening.’ Mother was blushing fiercely as she spoke. ‘Last Friday, when he hadn’t appeared by midnight, Stanley became concerned and went up to the bedroom, where he found your father – dead. The hotel manager was very helpful. He told Stanley that a blonde lady, wearing a long, black cloak, would arrive around eight o’clock every Friday evening and go straight up to room twenty-four. Around ten thirty, she would leave, Father coming down some time later to be driven home by Stanley.’

I’d sat in stunned silence while Richmond fidgeted with his bow tie. Getting to my feet, I took Mother by the arm and led her outside to the car where Stanley was waiting. Little was said during the journey home. When we arrived at the house, Mother excused herself and went up to her room.

I asked Stanley to join me in the lounge. After all, he’d been ferrying Father back and forward to the Sedgwick Arms every Friday night for years. Surely he must have some idea about what was going on?

‘What on earth is this all about, Stanley?’ I asked when he arrived. ‘Do you know anything about this “Sharon Turpen” person?’

Readily accepting my offer of a glass of whisky, Stanley sat down on the settee next to me. ‘Your father was a very strong-willed man, as you well know, Sarah,’ he said, sipping at his drink. ‘About five years ago, he confided in me that he wanted more excitement in his life. When I asked him what kind of “excitement” he had in mind, he was quite explicit. He wanted a young lady – someone who would be the very soul of discretion – who would – how can I put this? – “entertain him”, in exchange for an extremely generous remuneration. He asked me if I could arrange this, so I introduced him to Sharon Turpen. Thereafter, Friday evening at the Sedgwick Arms became the highlight of his week.’

‘I’m truly flabbergasted,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘I didn’t think the old man had it in him.’

 

My reverie of these events was broken by Oliver Richmond’s discreet cough. I glanced to my right. Only the empty chair where mother had sat a year ago convinced me I wasn’t reliving a dream.

After my father’s death, Mother had revived her interest in horse riding, going out with the local hunt most weekends. Last Saturday, her horse had reared suddenly and she’d been thrown to the ground, breaking her neck on impact.

Richmond cleared his throat again. ‘This is the last will and testament of Mrs Anne Rushport,’ he intoned. ‘To Stanley Hawkey, my dear friend, I bequeath the sum of five thousand pounds.’ I gulped. ‘The remainder of my estate, I leave to my daughter, Sarah.’

‘Thank you, Mr Richmond,’ I said quietly.

‘There’s a second will to be read,’ Richmond announced solemnly.

‘What are you talking about?’

Richmond produced another envelope from his desk drawer and extracted the single sheet of handwritten paper. ‘This is the last will and testament of Miss Sharon Turpen. I hereby leave my entire estate to Miss Sarah Rushport.’ Richmond placed the sheet of paper carefully on his desk and peered at me over the top of his spectacles. ‘And Miss Turpen’s estate is worth considerably more than your mother’s, I might add,’ he said. ‘Considerably more,’ he repeated, nodding his head up and down.

 

‘I’m totally mystified,’ I said to Stanley when we got back to the house. ‘If you don’t mind me saying, I knew you and Mother got on well – but not to the extent of five thousand pounds! And Sharon Turpen is dead?’ I added. ‘What a bizarre coincidence. And why on earth would she leave her estate to me?’

Stanley smiled enigmatically. ‘There’s something you need to know, Sarah. Your mother and I were what you might call “business partners”.’ I raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘A few years back, when your father spoke to me about putting more excitement into his life, I was very uncomfortable with the idea of him deceiving your mother, so I decided to tell her about his intentions. She concluded that he was unlikely to be deflected from his fantasy – and she surmised that if I didn’t assist him in finding a suitable young lady, someone else would. Having given the matter due consideration, your mother decided to give it a try.’

‘Give what a try?’

‘A disguise. She came up with the idea of a long, blonde wig and a special costume, which comprised a red basque, fishnet stockings and a velvet eye-mask – and she chose her new name: Sharon Turpen. On Friday evenings, while I was driving your father to the hotel, she would apply her make-up to hide her freckles, then don her wig and costume, the whole outfit concealed beneath her long, black cloak. When I returned from dropping off your father, I would drive her across to the Sedgwick Arms. She kept her eye-mask in her handbag and she would slip it on before entering room twenty-four. At ten thirty I went back to the hotel to collect her, returning at eleven to pick up your father.’

‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing! My mother was Sharon Turpen? In a red basque!’

Stanley chortled. ‘If you could see the expression on your face, Sarah!’

‘I still can’t believe this!’

‘If you would care to look in your mother’s wardrobe? At the back, I believe, behind her wedding dress.’

I hurried to the master bedroom, Stanley following close behind. Flinging open the wardrobe door, I tugged at the clothes on the rail and when I wrenched out the last hanger I saw the red basque, the fishnet stockings, the velvet eye-mask and the long, blonde wig.

‘And Father never suspected? Not once – in five years?’

‘I really don’t know the answer to that, Sarah. If he did, he never gave any indication of it to me. However, I have my suspicions. Anne Rushport and Sharon Turpen – the old boy was red-hot at anagrams!’

 

Ends

Find out more about author Bill Daly here.

 



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