Terry and the Peachers

X

By Michael Arram

Monday dawned fair and bright. It was early March and the trees and hedgerows were full of blossom. Terry went for his early morning jog, and was loping back to the house when the rhythmic thwock, thwock of a helicopter made him look up to find the black speck in the sky. It was heading to land on the terrace at the end of the reflecting pool.

He stood watching from the woodland, branches and leaves whipped about up by the gale of the rotors, as it disgorged its three occupants and their luggage and then took off again, heading north and low. He ran over to the visitors. Two of them, a man and a woman were looking around. The third, a young man, had his back to Terry and was excavating inside a suitcase. He addressed the standing male, a dark haired and elegant young man in his early twenties, with a highly intelligent face and very expensive wardrobe.

'Morning. Can I help you with the bags?'

He was given a careful look over. 'Is Mr Peacher up yet? I know he's expecting me, but I was too disorganised to give him a time.' This guy's an aristo, some part of Terry's plebeian genetic makeup was signalling loudly. He certainly unerringly spotted me for a servant.

'I think he's still in bed with Mr White, sir. But I imagine they heard your arrival. This way please.' He looked over the other arrivals, a very glamorous woman who was clearly involved with the guy. No introduction was offered; he was after all a servant. The other man stood up, he recognised him instantly. It was Hampton Stuyvessant, Andy's friend from Washington. He showed no sign of recognising Terry.

He didn't offer to take Stuyvessant's case but carried the woman's. Matt and Andy were at the garden windows waving by now.

Andy leaped at his guests, 'Ed, this is so great. You didn't go to South Africa then?'

'No, Andy. I gave the dear Boers a miss this year. Hullo Matt my love.' He air kissed Matt, and then fell about. Is this guy queer or just taking the piss? Terry asked himself.

'Hampton! Great, you could make it! Couldn't believe it when Ed said he's met you in London and that you could come for a few days.'

Andy caught Terry's raised eyebrow. 'Terry, take the bags up to the north bedrooms.'

'Sir.' He hauled off, his curiosity destined to be unsatisfied. Mme Cirier joined him upstairs, and helped him unpack. The girl was in Ed's room, not Stuyvessant's. Mme Cirier clearly knew something, talking about getting 'Milord' comfortable and a special meal with beef and truffles she was going to make. Terry had forgotten how much the French love a lord.

He quickly showered and changed into his Peacher uniform. He called in on the front reception room to see if anything was required. Andy, Matt, Stuyvessant and 'Ed', with his apparent girlfriend, were sitting and laughing together, as he opened the tall double-valved doors.

'S fine Terry, tell Mme Cirier to set up a late breakfast in the morning room in half an hour.'

Terry was way out of his depth here. He had no manservant training, and he was beginning to feel embarrassed, especially as Hampton Stuyvessant immediately put him on edge. What if they asked him to serve at meals? He could polish knives and forks wearing neat little white gloves with M Cirier in the basement pantry, but he didn't know which side of the plate they went. In the event, it didn't matter. Mme Cirier put him in a white jacket and got him just to carry tureens and dishes. M. Cirier could do the butler thing, and as they cleared up late that night he nudged Terry and offered him private instruction at some later date. Terry was quite touched, although it was not a career he was all that interested in.

The next morning he jogged with Matt.

'So this Ed guy...?'

'Is Ed Roedenbeck, who was in school with Andy and is his biggest mate.'

'Mme Cirier said he's a lord, or something.'

'No. His dad's a viscount, but he's the second son and won't inherit.'

'He's a bit... camp, theatrical, whatever.'

'Just his way, Terry. Anyway, who are you to talk? When you're in the mood you can be the biggest screaming poofdah in the UK. The odd thing about you is that you can turn it on and off when it suits you. It's the actor in you. No, Ed has a stable full of girlfriends, many of whom seem to resemble horses.'

'This one's a bit classy... like a model.'

'She is, as it happens.'

'Thought I recognised her... one of the faces of Dior, isn't she?'

'I believe so, yes.'

'Cool. I wonder if she'll sign a picture for me, so I can send it to me mum. She'd be dead impressed.'

'Terry, there are times when there doesn't seem to be much of an age difference between you and Peter Peacher.'

'I take that as a compliment to me youthful freshness. So why's he here?'

'At the risk of sounding mysterious, you'll find out tomorrow.'

Terry slept over the old stables at the back of the house. The accommodation was not in fact as bad as that sounded. The room was boarded and basic, but the bed was modern and there was central heating; also it had a phone, which was ringing insistently in his ear at seven the next morning. He groped for it.

'Lo. Wassup?'

It was Andy. 'Not you obviously, Terry.'

'Boss, it's me day off.'

'Oh... oh God, you're right. I forgot. OK. As a favour, could you be over at the garage in an hour?'

Terry groaned inwardly; so much for his free Wednesday. It had been all he could do to withstand Mme Cirier's enthusiasm that he continue her epic dusting and cleaning onslaught on the château. He'd stand out for another day in lieu, or join a gophers union or something.

At eight he stumped down the steps and into the garage yard. Andy was there and so was Ed Roedenbeck, with a briefcase. Terry defiantly wore casuals.

Andy said, 'Ed and Terry, you two've met. Terry, I want you to go with Ed for a walk in the woods.'

Terry was getting irritated with all the mystery, 'Boss, I've not had me breakfast.'

Andy gave a shamefaced smile, 'Thought of that,' he said and produced a wicker hamper, 'Terry, this may seem a little weird, but it is important... really, really important.'

They walked off together across the lawn and into the Bois du Domaine, an extensive tract of woodland in which there were supposed to be herds of wild pigs, which Terry had not seen, and deer, of which he had seen plenty.

Ed Roedenbeck talked cheerily, mostly about his and Andy's schooldays, but also interrogated Terry kindly, if a little persistently, about himself. They walked a good mile deep into the woods, along a rutted path until they came to an abandoned keeper's cottage, its shutters hanging loose and its roof partly fallen in.

'This'll do,' said Ed. 'Fancy some breakfast then?' There were fresh rolls, brioche, ham and cheese, as well as two steel flasks of good coffee. While Terry was still sipping away at his, Ed put his briefcase on a tree stump, and clicked it open. Terry craned over to look. There were several handguns, replacement magazines, and boxes of 9mm shells.

'Bloody hell. What's this?'

'Terry, Andy asked me here for a reason. He knows I have a fascination – well actually an obsession - with guns. The Roedenbeck fortune is based on armaments, and I, my father and brothers annually consign thousands of innocent animals to oblivion in the name of sport, so who better to equip you for survival?'

'Me?'

'Terry, Andy thinks you may have a better chance to live to your twentieth birthday if you can shoot back at the bastards who will likely enough be shooting at you. He thinks very highly of you, and from what he's told me, I don't think he's over-reacting. Besides that his father is surrounded by discretely armed men, and after the scare over Peter, Richard is making noises that Andy should have at least one aide with weapons training. So this is lesson one. Sorry about the secrecy, but Sylvia Powicke really can't know about this, and you know why.'

'Holy shit.'

'Do you want to do this?'

'Er... do I have a choice?'

'Of course. But my feeling, from what he is saying, is that not just you, but the whole crew of you here, are sitting ducks with a battleship bearing down on you. At least one of you should be able to fire back, if the worst came to the worst.'

'Er, well...' Terry's mind was already ticking, and he was more than a little bit excited at the prospect of blazing away with hand artillery, like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon. 'Well, OK, but just to see how it goes.'

Three hours later, his right arm numb and his head aching, but with a grin all over his face, Terry came whistling round into the stableyard. Under his arm was a new bump, a shoulder holster packing a neat little Walther P99, and he felt great. There were to be a whole week's lessons, disguised as shooting expeditions with Ed. Ed had already told him that he had brilliant reflexes, although his aim was a little unsteady. He had also bollocked him comprehensively for not listening to what he was saying about gun care. 'They don't take care of themselves, Terry, like in the films.' Ed had also impressed the hell out of him by shooting the pip out of an ace of spades which he had spun in the air. 'We're not aiming at that level of competence, dear boy.' He liked Ed and it was mutual; they recognised a common theatricality in each other. So daily for a week, except Sunday, they walked out in the woods each morning with Terry carrying the big boar gun over his shoulder, broken at the breech, but with his holster strapped on under his jacket.

By the end of the week, he liked Ed even more. He was civil and friendly to him, which contrasted with the hostile indifference he experienced from Hampton Stuyvessant. Stuyvessant somehow made Terry feel like a servant, while Ed – despite the social gulf between them – seemed to treat Terry as a friend. He somehow knew that if he bumped into Ed Roedenbeck in a year, he and Terry would take up where they left off, whereas Stuyvessant would not even recognise him, or if he did, would not care to let on that he had. Stuyvessant was very different with Matt and Ed: utterly charming and modest, and he was all over Andy in a big way. Terry gave an internal shrug. If he were Matt, he would be a bit pissed off, but Matt didn't seem to notice.

The final day, Andy came along for the shooting class, and Terry was put through his paces military style. Andy was impressed.

'Best we can do, my dears. Terry'll never get to the standards the FBI require, but he wouldn't disgrace the Berkshire Constabulary at least.'

'I'll take that as a compliment, Ed.'

'It was meant as one, Terry. You've come on amazingly. Hope you feel safer, Andy.'

'Curiously,' Andy replied, 'I do, what's more, I...' He cut off as Ed lunged past him, grabbed and snapped the boar gun, twisted and fired it with a roar like a cannon, which echoed and re-echoed through the woods. A low black shape in the shadows grunted, lurched and collapsed.

'That's dinner sorted... my God!'

Andy was hurled flat on the ground, with Terry kneeling protectively over him, his gun cocked and pointed between Ed's eyes. 'Sir, that was a bloody stupid thing to do, with all respect.'

'Hmm. I revise my opinion, you might make the Metropolitan Police at that.'

They carried the heavy young boar out of the woods, slung on a pole, much to M Cirier's delight. He made a disgusted Terry watch while he disembowelled the animal into a pit he had dug, skinned and skilfully butchered and dressed the carcase. 'Ah Terry,' he enthused. 'It's like good times are back. That's the first sanglier shot in those woods for ten years. Dieu benisse milor!'

Milord left with Stuyvessant and his ladyfriend the next morning, a Thursday, and Terry drove them to the small airport at Niort, to pick up a chartered plane. As he shook hands, Ed looked him seriously in the eyes and pulled him to one side. 'Take care of yourself, Terry. I've met too many people like this Anson. My father employs them. From what Andy has told me, I would think that killing you painfully has become a freelance scheme all of his own, which he will combine with his paid work. People like him are ruthless and amoral. If it comes to the point, shoot first and damn the consequences. It's better that you're alive and being questioned by a magistrate than become a mutilated corpse.' Terry saw that Stuyvessant had noticed the private word, and he looked openly curious.

Well, that was an ominous sort of goodbye, thought Terry as he made his way back to Courçon. It left him on edge. Mme Cirier was waiting for him when he returned. They had their first disagreement. Terry had counted on a day to himself on Friday, and he was by now owed two days. So he blankly refused her request to join him on a major shopping expedition to La Rochelle. Besides, he didn't dare leave the Domaine unguarded. She threatened him darkly with Mr Peacher, who had made a particular point that he should be helping Madame on Friday. But in the end she conceded that he had a point, and they relaxed.

On Friday he first saw off the Ciriers, and then drove a car round to the front for Andy and Matt to pick up. They had yet to emerge. He started the morning at seven thirty jogging, armed, with his holster under a zip-up hoodie. From now on he would always be armed. He had a sense that the presence of Ed in the house may have staved off Anson for a while. But now he was gone.

The morning was misty, and the Bois looked damp and mysterious, condensation dripping from the branches. It was his day off in lieu, and he was going to run to the old cottage and practice his aim. His breakfast and several full clips were in his backpack.

Maybe it was mist and greyness of the day, but he felt uneasy well before he sighted the cottage. He stopped dead and had a breather, but started walking when he resumed, not running. Well before he reached the clearing, he melted into the eaves of the wood and hunkered down as Ed had taught him that hunters do, just watching and listening.

Now he knew something was up. The cottage was occupied by someone who did not want to be seen. A dark track through the wet and grey grass headed to the cottage from the direction of the nearby road and the wall of the Domaine. Someone had been passing to and from the cottage. Then he had him. A dark figure passed behind an empty window, dressed SAS style completely in black, a hood concealing the face. So this was it: he might never get his enemy at such a disadvantage again. He drew his pistol and checked the magazine. He had sixteen rounds. He willed his heart to stop its pounding. He must be cool. He took off his pack.

Half an hour passed, and Terry had gained some control of himself. At last the dark figure emerged cautiously from the cottage, it looked from side to side and skulked down towards a ruined outbuilding. At the broken door he stopped and loosened his trouser belt. Oh my God, thought Terry, I'll never have a better chance, the bastard's going to take a dump. Caught with his trousers down.

Terry silently sped across the clearing, his gun drawn. He heard a grunt from the shed. This was it. He leaped to the door, a pale face looked up as he suddenly blocked the light. 'Freeze you bastard!' Terry shouted as he jammed the pistol into his face, 'One move and you're fuckin' dead meat.'

'Dios! mama!'

'Oh fuckin' shit!'

'Terry!'

'Ramon! What in fifty three kinds of fuck are you doin' here!'

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