Murder at the Royal Wedding

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CHAPTER TWELVE

60 Penscroft Mansions

Camberwell

London

In the drab corridor the silence of the big house permeated the hallway. Thorne smelled fish boiling somewhere in the rooms below. He felt like an actor waiting in the wings to say the lines he had learned long ago on the cold nights in his cell. He rapped twice at number eight.

“Mr Milton? Might I have a word?”

In the silence the door opened. The slight figure of Matt Milton, in chinos and a deep brown jumper that matched his open-toed sandals, hesitated in the doorway. The tip of his tongue sought a dry spot on his lips. He spoke softly, his watery eyes wide.

“Oh. Hello.”

Milton dried up, looking for a reply before he had to speak again.

Thorne pressed him like a salesman.

“Hello, Mr Milton. I’m Kenny Thorne. I’ve moved in next door. Thought it would be nice if I introduced myself?”

Matt Milton looked down the corridor, seeking any intervention.

“Oh, I see.”

Thorne pressed on.

“Sort of get to know me, as we’re now living together, so to speak. Have you been here long?”

A stutter entered Milton´s speech.

“Y…yes, a while. Th…three years, I think.”

“I’ve come up to London for the royal wedding. Like Christopher Robin in the poem, I’ve come to see the Queen. I’m very patriotic, you see. Love to follow Her Majesty.”

Matt Milton stood up straighter. His stammer vanished.

“You do? But I love Her Majesty, too. Such a magnificent woman, Mr Thorne. We are her subjects, after all.”

“Oh, yes indeed. Where would Britain be without our beloved Elizabeth, eh? Such an example to us all, I’m sure you agree, Matt?

Thorne’s smile stretched too wide.

“May I call you Matt? I’m Kenny to my friends. Especially friends who are loyal subjects like you.”

Milton relaxed.

“I couldn’t have put it better but it’s Great Britain, Kenny. The great is such a little word but with a big meaning.”

“Exactly, Matt! And it’s Her Majesty who makes it great. We are like minds. I’d love to talk some more about the royal wedding?”

Milton turned, indicating the sitting room beyond.

“Please come in. Perhaps I could find a little tea and a cake for us? Make a space on the sofa. Don’t mind my friends, just move them over.”

Thorne walked forward but halted, gaping at the walls. Each a shrine of torn-out pictures and portraits pasted to the wallpaper. Queen Elizabeth II stared down from her throne in purple and ermine regalia. Her children, in order of ascension to the throne, spaced around her. Thorne turned and was mesmerised by the second wall, dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales. A single, glamorous portrait of her in a white, off-the-shoulder gown, her bare arms hugging the back of a Chippendale chair. Her picture was dressed with a single, black mourning ribbon.

Pulling himself away his gaze finally moved to the sofa. A Beefeater bear nestled with cushions depicting royal palaces and a cushion portrait of the deceased Queen Mother.

Milton reappeared, wreathed in smiles, from the kitchenette with a tray.

“So good to have you living here, Kenny.”

Thorne nodded at the wall of pictures.

“Her Majesty has such a loyal subject, here, too. We met, many years ago, Matt. You won’t remember. Diana’s wedding, it was. We were outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Don’t you think there’s someone missing from this wedding, Matt? Someone who should be there?”

Thorne’s eyes went to the portrait of Diana. Milton giggled, placing the tray carefully on a side table.

“I’ve not seen Her Majesty for a long time.”

He lifted his face to the portrait of Queen Elizabeth who returned his gaze.

“Such a wonderful occasion. I’m so excited, Kenny.”

Thorne grimaced and pulled out the guardsman bear from the shop.

“Matt, I’d like you to have this. A present from me. Mrs O’Neill mentioned your collection. I knew you were the right person.”

Milton’s eyes were locked onto the stuffed soldier.

Thorne went on with his story.

“I have a friend who worked as a chauffeur at Kensington Palace. Diana gave him this bear herself. He moved away when she died. He said if ever I met someone deserving they should have it. You’re certainly deserving, Matt.”

He had practised the lie often.

“The Princess would be pleased her bear went to live with you.”

Matt Milton caught his breath and his stutter returned, his face blushing pink.

“Oh, b…but I can’t. I mean it was hers.. Oh, Mister Thorne, how can I? He’s a Coldstream, you know. You can tell by the spacing of his buttons.”

“You certainly know your stuff, Matt. Look, I’ll put him here on the sofa with the Beefeater. They make a great pair. Can I offer a lift to the wedding tomorrow?”

Milton nodded.

“You have a car? The Queen will expect to see me. My friend Asnar was coming but he’s had to run away. He lived next door in your flat, Kenny."

Thorne grimaced but he wanted to laugh.

“He showed me a letter. About him being an alien in this country, without papers. Threatened to report him. He ran away and who could blame him? What a terrible thing to do.”

Thorne nodded along.

“Shocking. Thank you for the tea. Lots to do. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Matt. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, one way or another.”

*

In his next-door apartment, Thorne switched on the TV, tuning the channels until he pick up the guardsman bear’s signal.

Matt Milton’s´s face loomed on the TV screen and Thorne reared back, startled. Milton picked up the bear, his hands grotesque on the screen. The picture blacked out when he hugged it to his chest then reappeared when Milton replaced the bear on the sofa. The Queen’s portrait on the wall, distorted by the tiny lens in the bearskin cap, loomed over him as he cleared the teacups.

Milton was oblivious to the cuddly spy that had just entered his life.

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