Lorna glanced up from her plate." I know it's foolish, but I'm afraid of pushing my nose in. Surely David and your cook will feel hurt, if my move in too quickly on their territory; Jo too."
"Nonsense. Jo's been running things since my accident but she's all set to move out and start a family soon. If they go, David will need someone around. You'll just step into Jo's shoes. I'm having the old lodge by the main gate renovated for Jo and Ed but I haven't told them yet; I want it to be a surprise. It's the least I can do for them after all they've done for Erica and me. I wouldn't be surprised if they announced Jo is pregnant any day now. They haven't said anything yet but I have a feeling it will be soon."
Lorna shook her head at him. "And there's you asking me to teach you how to give? "
He was waiting for Lorna in the lounge when, at eight thirty, she came out of the dressing room, ready to go down to the party. He held her at arms length to admire the calf-length turquoise creation with a sequined bodice supported by a single glitter strand over one shoulder, and below it, three tiers or nylon tulle wafting about her legs with every move she made. "You are looking great, Princess! You're going to knock 'em cold, tonight!"
Lorna blushed, eyeing Gypsy's outfit. "You don't look so bad yourself, kind sir." His trousers were habitual black, neat and figure hugging, just right to show off the white Spanish lace shirt, buttoned just high enough to hide his precious medallion. He bowed low and on straightening, up he produced a tiny white leather case from his left trouser pocket. Opening it, he handed it to Lorna. "From me to you, with my love."
Wide-eyed, Lorna watched as Gypsy lifted out the engagement ring. Her heart hammered as she looked at her birthstone, a turquoise in the shape of a heart, set in a mount of tiny diamonds , on a band of silver. He slipped it on her wedding ringer, and then he kissed the ring, her hand, and then her lips. "I guess we got things the wrong way round. We should have got engaged first. Still, it will keep people happy till they know what we did this afternoon."
"Won't Erica give the game away? You know what tots are like for not keeping secrets."
"I doubt it. Joe and Ed might have guessed, like David has, but they'll keep quiet till I say the word."
Lorna stared at the ring, then at Gypsy. "But you had no time to go and buy this."
Gypsy smiled. "I didn't have to. I have tradesmen come to me; not that I like it much. I'm just like many other performers who miss doing things for themselves. David arranged for a jeweler to bring a case of rings to the house after dinner." He drew her out of the lounge onto the first floor landing. "Come on, let's go and show Erica the ring before she goes to sleep. I promised her she would be the first to see it. If we don't we will never hear the last of it."
Lorna frowned as they headed towards Erica's room across the head of the main stairs from the corridor. "I've been thinking about Erica. Didn't your prediction say someone was going to try and take her away from you?"
"They would have a hard job at the moment. She always has one of Barney's men with her when she is not with one of us, and Butch sleeps in her room at night. He's devoted to her and I would hate to see what was left of anyone trying to kidnap her with him around." As if to demonstrate what Gypsy said, when they opened Erica's door, Lorna was met with a fearsome growl till Butch recognized who was with his master. Erica was still awake, singing to a tattered grey rabbit clutched in her arms, and when they approached the bed she scrambled from under her duvet and held out her arms to her new mummy. Lorna showed her the ring and the child wrapped her arms round Lorna's neck and promptly fell asleep her arms. As far as she was concerned her new mummy was already in residence.
The only person not welcome at the party was Marla Frank, looking every inch a gluttonous caterpillar in a pale green kimono. Terry pretended to look bored, to keep his defection to the opposite camp under wraps till Gypsy could arrange for his employment with Diaz Enterprises. He at least could see this was only a cozy get together of Gypsy's backing group, managers, dancers, and closest friends, no famous faces; no hangers on, no gatecrashers, just a gathering of eighty guests to whom Marla Frank and Florey Products were of no importance. Terry persuaded Marla to make an early exit and come back in the morning, and winked at Gypsy and Lorna when his ploy resulted in an early departure by the irritating woman. Gypsy slipped him a note as he left, inviting him to come back later, alone. Sandy arrived just after nine o'clock and was amazed to learn the identity of the girl in the prophecy. MacCaffrey arrived a few minutes later and Gypsy made sure everyone knew just how much he owed the man. The party was now complete, or so Gypsy thought.
One of Gypsy's dancers was halfway through a comic party piece when David came in to tell Gypsy he was wanted in the hall. He hurried out and came face to face with Manuel. "Dad! Why didn't you let me know you were coming home?" Gypsy said as he and Manuel greeted each other warmly. "I would have sent Barney to meet you at the airport." They kissed cheeks and smiled at one another.
"It was a sudden decision, Gypsy. I thought I ought to be here when you go into the Rosscroft on Friday."
The smile faded from Gypsy's face. "Sarah phoned you, didn't she?"
"Don't blame her; I told Ed to contact me if circumstances changed at all." He glanced into the lounge." I think I am glad I did come home, I have the feeling this is not just an ordinary party for the competition winner."
"Your gypsy intuition?" Gypsy's look of annoyance softened." Come in and meet the guest of honour, and there is someone else I would like you to get re-acquainted with."
Manuel thought Lorna a very enchanting person, as well as a knowledgeable young lady, and suspected she was the reason for his strange feelings during the flight home. Passively natured, she did not seem the type to let her emotions show in public, but he detected in her eyes the glow of something wonderful bubbling away. She had a secret and was having trouble keeping it to herself. Manuel was delighted to meet MacCaffrey again and the two men found themselves standing apart from the other guests, their topic being their admiration for Gypsy' s success in his struggle back to stardom. They eventually moved out of the lounge away from the noise and Manuel seized the opportunity to talk to the man alone, and offered to take him on a tour of Chilvers.
MacCaffrey was delighted." I have an inherent love of old houses, so much more character than modern architecture, don't you think?"
"I certainly agree." Manuel led MacCaffrey up the stairs to the first floor. "Gypsy has told me about the house your family owns."
"Northwood? Yes; it's a bit heavy on repairs and upkeep but there are enough of us in the family to raise the necessary funds. Seventy two at the last count, I believe, and all totally devoted to my father the patriarch of the clan."
MacCaffrey marveled at the size 0f the first floor practice room and positively drooled over the restoration being done to the woodwork in the main corridors, but Manuel began to feel that the man's enthusiasm was a bit too much to be genuine . On the top floor Manuel showed him the work being done to turn the attics into luxurious bedrooms.
"When everything is finished, there will be fourteen double bedrooms in all on this floor alone. We are waiting for the heating engineers to finish the repairs to the central heating before we begin decorating; hopefully they will be ready by Christmas when we expect the first twenty recipients of the Chilvers Project."
"So, a t the moment, this floor is not in use?" MacCaffrey remarked. He gazed up at the sloping ceiling of the room they were standing in. " Look at those beams; you don't get roofs made like that these days. My sister, Beverley, has a house not far from here; all ultra modern now she's had it renovated; walls as thin as paper and timber like matchwood. This has the same aura of strength and stability, just like Northwood. "
"Talking of Northwood, exactly what did happen on Boxing Day, nineteen ninety five. What made my son run away in the middle of the night?"
"Ah!" MacCaffrey frowned as he took a pipe and a packet of tobacco from his inside jacket pocket, and a box of matches from his trouser pocket, eliciting a frown of disapproval at the man not asking permission to light up. Ignoring his look, MacCaffrey said, "That's what I was going to ask you. All I know is he disappeared after leaving a note saying he couldn't stay any longer and he would see me the first day of school to explain things." He packed the bowl of his pipe with tobacco and tamped it down with his thumb. " I didn't know what to say to my family, it was I who hired him in the first place, you see? I felt responsible for him."
"Did you try to look for him?"
"Of course I did; we all did, as I stated during the trial; what d'you take me for? We all went out in our cars to make a search as soon as we realized he had gone, but of course we looked in the wrong direction. Worked our way towards West Houghton thinking he would go to his grandparents place; never thought he would try to make it home to Trentham on his own."
"You could have telephoned his grandmother."
"We did, s everal times but got no reply, then we decided to call the police and they told us what had happened; terrible business." When Manuel did not reply, MacCaffrey glanced round at him at last. "Are you trying to infer something, Mr. Diaz? If so I'd like you to come straight out with it."
"Very well, Mr. MacCaffrey; I have the feeling you are not telling me everything you know, and that you are trying to protect someone."
"Protect?" MacCaffrey looked astonished. "Good God man, is this a one man court, or something?"
"No, Mr. MacCaffrey, and I would not want to insult your family. But it is common knowledge what your sister and her husband have been up to in the past with certain young protégés of theirs. Is it possible they tried to take advantage of my son while he was at Northwood?"
MacCaffrey seemed to take great interest in what he was doing to his pipe and did not look up again till the pipe was well alight. He blew a thick cloud of smoke up at the ceiling. "Alright, I am covering up for them, and with good reason; and it won't be the first time either. My sister's antics, or those of her deplorable husband, don't concern me; but my father is old and frail and I love him enough to protect him from any distress they might cause. He has no idea what they're up to. They've been at it for years. T he Christmas that your son came to Northwood, they had just finished making the first half of a pornographic film which they were daft enough to show the lad. They had filled him with sherry, on top of a tablet to get rid of a headache. He was in a right state and almost passed out on them. They panicked and dumped him on me. I gave him an emetic to make him sick; we couldn' t take any chances with alcoholic poisoning, you see. Have you ever seen a child suffer from that? Not very nice; I put him to bed myself and stayed with him. "
"What else did you give him?"
"My sister in law, Margaret, gave him something to help him sleep."
"All right." Manuel decided to put the ball in MacCaffrey's court. "That night, Gypsy woke up and found a man in his bed. He was raped, Mr. MacCaffrey, while still under the influence of the drug your wife gave him; and it wasn't just a sleeping draft. You should remember, the first thing the doctors do in situations like this is to take a blood sample to check for any drugs; they found traces of Rohypnol, a well known date rape drug."
"What!" MacCaffrey's pipe fell out of his mouth and he managed to catch it, burning his hand in the process. "Did he say who it was?"
"Would I be asking you these questions if he had? The man would have been behind bars long ago. Unfortunately for the attacker, victims often remember more about the incident as time goes by, and we hope it won't be too long before Gypsy can name his assailant and anything else that happened at Northwood. "
"What proof do you have that this event happened?"
"Gypsy has begun having flashbacks about a lot of things that happened to him in the past; this is just one of them; probably as part of his reaction to the Rohypnol. I am going to find out who that man was, Mr. MacCaffrey, no matter what suffering it might cause your father. Now, before you leave this house tonight, I want a list of every male who stayed at Northwood that Christmas who were old enough to have raped him, because it was this abominable act that made my son run away, and nothing else."
MacCaffrey had gone quite grey at Manuel's slow rise to boiling point. "You've taken me quite by surprise! I had no idea, really; I am appalled. I'm used to having many children in my care and I have always watched for this kind of thing going on. Terrible, just terrible, and in my own family home too! Bev's antics I can understand, but this? The man ought to be hung!"
"Then you will assist me?"
"My dear Mr. Diaz, it will be a pleasure. Was your son... was he hurt at all?"
"No. Whoever it was, knew what he was doing. Even though Gypsy was incapable of resisting, any force would have had him screaming the place down. His assailant made sure that did not happen. But worst of all, his attacker was HIV positive. Fortunately rape victims are tested for it immediately, and my son went through a horrendous course of treatment." Manuel said no more and, satisfied he had said enough, he led the way down the narrow curving stairs.
MacCaffrey muttered to himself as he followed, "Terrible, just terrible; ought to be hung."
Before returning to the party, Manuel said he had to check on Erica and MacCaffrey begged to be allowed to see the child for a moment. Butch growled at him and bared his teeth, but quietened down at Manuel's command. MacCaffrey tiptoed to the bed and gazed down at the child. "Absolutely perfect; Gypsy has done himself proud all right." He eyed Butch but made no move to befriend him as the dog growled deep in his throat. " Magnificent animal isn't he? Is he always in here at night?"
"Yes, Butch has been her guard dog since she was born. Anyone trying to snatch my granddaughter wouldn't stand a chance."
Outside the bedroom again, MacCaffrey shook his head. "Surely no-one would want to kidnap the child?"
"We have to be prepared for such events," Manuel replied as they started down the main stairs. "Gypsy has five of these Dober mans and a team of guards to back them up. More than a match for any would be intruder, don't you think? You have seen for yourself t hey are not the sweetest of dogs to look at when their teeth are bared." They reached the ground floor where Manuel showed MacCaffrey the study and the rest of the house, the basement swimming pool with its self-contained eating area. Manuel finally showed him the recording studio and MacCaffrey marveled at the 'state of the art' equipment. Outside, h e showed him the rest of the dogs and introduced him to Mike, then took him back to the party. As soon as they stepped into the lounge, Gypsy dragged his father out into the hall again.
"Showing people round the house again, Dad? Re mind me to use you as an estate agent if I ever decide to sell the place. Come into the study for a moment, I want to show you something."
Ed, Jo, Sandy and Lorna were already in the study, talking to Erskine and Sarah, when Gypsy and Manuel walked in. They were standing round the desk on which stood a magnum of champagne and some glasses. Everyone except Lorna looked rather puzzled as Gypsy closed the door and led Manuel to the desk. Once he had filled the glasses, he handed them round then drew Lorna close to him and raised his own glass. "I think Ed and Jo know what I'm about to say, if I know my blabbermouth daughter. I have asked Lorna to marry me and she said yes." A mid the happy confusion that followed, Gypsy took the ring he had hidden in his trouser pocket and slipped it onto Lorna's finger.
Sandy raised his glass and grinned at Lorna, but Gypsy noticed his happiness wasn't reflected in his eyes. "I thought Gypsy was jokin' when 'e saw you for the first time in school, and told me 'e was goin' to marry you some day. 'Ere's to both of you and congratulations. Just what the doctor ordered, Mate."
Manuel echoed him. "M ay you both be very happy! I have a daughte r a t last."
Ed and Jo added their congratulations and Ed said, " Jo's had a c all from her ma. Her pa's been taken ill and she wants to go and see him, but didn't want to take Erica with her." He grinned and added, "From what Erica's been saying about her new mama, I reckon she's going to be taken care of jest fine."
Erskine nodded. "All the best, Gypsy, and to you, Lorna. Just as well you waited till that vulture and her zombie left the party before you announced this or you would have half of Fleet Street parked in your drive by now. Are you going to tell the others now or are you waiting till tomorrow?"
Jo answered for Gypsy by saying, "I think one or two have already caught on; after all you and Lorna have been making cow eyes at each other all night."
Gypsy smiled and hugged Lorna to him. "I take your point, Jo. They will be wondering why we all disappeared like this any way. All set, lover? And by the way, Terry isn't so bad; he proved to be very co-operative once he knew he could pinch a scoop from the battle-axe in blue. I've offered him a place on our team as my private photographer." He turned to Lorna and took her hand in his. "Ready for the announcement, babe?"
Lorna laughed. "With all these reinforcements, I think I can cope."
After revealing the happy event to the other guests, Manuel expected Gypsy to relax and enjoy the company of his fiancé and closest friends, but as the night wore on he noticed Gypsy was becoming more restless than ever. At one point, after showing MacCaffrey into the study where he could write the list of Northwood guests before he left the party, he found Gypsy at the foot of the stairs staring upward in deep thought and oblivious of those guests who had sought the peace of the hall away from the party.
Manuel asked him what was wrong and he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, Dad, I can't explain it." He fell silent again, sniffing the air like a dog searching for a scent, and Manuel also had a sense of foreboding he could not define. "You are sensing something, aren't you?"
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]