The Cup Bearer
George felt his legs cramping up. Kneeling in the confined space between the front and rear seats wasn't the best place for a man of his size. He wanted desperately to sit back up but that would mean losing pressure on the blood soaked dressing he held to the boy's head. Sprawled on the floor, the boy groaned and tried to shift his position but George held his down. "Easy, kid. Estoban said to keep hidden and that's what we're going to do."
"I feel sick."
"Better that than dead."
"You got shot, that's what." George reached into the medical kit for a fresh dressing and replaced the bloodied one. "Nothing serious but the bullet nicked the back of your head and it's bleeding some. It's a good thing you ducked when you did. You would have ended up with a hole in your brains."
"Who shot me?"
"I don't know. Someone high up, maybe at the villa." George pointed to a hole low down in the back of the front passenger seat. "You see that hole? That's where the bullet ended up. From the angle it hit you then hit the seat, it must have been a shot from high up. Did you see something that made you duck?"
"No, I just knew something was going to happen." George knew about Emilio's uncanny ability to predict things but it jarred him just the same. "What's happening? Are Jimmy and Estoban okay?"
"Yes, they've gone hunting. If the gunman's still around they'll find him. Apparently, Estoban knows this place like he know his own nose." George picked up the pistol Estoban had given him and chanced a peep over the sill of the open window, scanning the hillside for signs of life. He spotted movement above the Landrover and aimed the gun then Estoban broke from cover with Jimmy a few yards behind him and George put the gun back on the seat. They approached the vehicle at a walk and George struggled to his feet then lifted Emilio up and sat him on the seat. He swayed and George could feel him start to tremble. George sat down and pulled Emilio across his knee to lie face down. Estoban was the first to reach the vehicle and flung the rear door open. Sticking his head in he looked at Emilio then at George. "How is he?"
"Just shaken up, I think. What did you find?"
"Not much. Whoever did this is long gone. We'd better get him to the villa and clean him up, although he won't like what we've found there."
Back at the Palace
Edward's eyes widened. "Everything?"
"Yep." George sank down on the settee in the hotel guest suite the Graftons were using as their temporary office. "All the kid's clothes, his guitar, books, even his schoolwork, all trashed."
"And the rest of the villa?"
"Fine. Nothing touched."
"Except that some things were taken." Emilio sat beside George, his wound dressed and his head pounding. He long to lie down and sleep but the Graftons had called a conference. "Tony's ruby signet ring, his birthday card to me, and a watch Tony's Nashville servants gave me. Some stuff of Tony's is missing too, small personal stuff, easy to carry. I've given Torres a list." He watched Edward pace the floor, pulling thoughtfully at his beard, his forbidding hawk nosed face all the darker as his anger built up. The man showed no outward sign of affection towards him but Emilio felt he could trust him as Tony had. Edward turned to face him. "So, it seems that whoever did this has a vendetta against you. Perhaps you are right, the bullet which killed my brother was intended for you."
"It had to be. Tony must have seen the killer and threw himself across me. That's the only reason he died. Have the police found out who killed him?"
"No. It doesn't look as if they will ever find out either. Absolute amateurs, the lot of them, and I certainly don't like that Commandant Torres. We offered our expertise, but we were rebuffed in no uncertain manner. At least you're no longer under arrest and are free to return to Nashville."
Thomas, the kinder looking of the two with a clean-shaven face and rimless glasses, said, "We think he's trying to cover up the fact that his officers overran the scene of crime. Any footprints around where the killer took his shot were completely obliterated."
"What about the rifle and the bullet casing?"
Edward shook his head. "The killer was careful to use gloves and remove all trace of ammunition. The only fingerprints found on the gun were yours but, as you say, you cleaned the guns the night you arrived at the villa."
"So what happens now?"
"We wait and see."
"What about Peter?"
The brothers raised their heads and stared straight at him. "What about him?" Edward asked.
"Someone was using the villa before we got there. Tony thought it might have been Peter. I told the police all this."
"Well Peter's been ruled out of the investigation. I've already contacted him and informed him of Tony's death, He was in Buenos Aries at the time Tony was shot. Several people have testified that they saw him there. By the way, the police were very interested in your sketch book."
Despite his throbbing headache, Emilio met his stern gaze. "I guess you are too."
"On the contrary. George did explain its relevance to your recovery and we're too used to seeing pictures of that nature in our line of work to be unduly shocked. I can't say that for the Tamarigan Constabulary. To be quite honest, I don't think they've ever dealt with something as complicated a murder case as this."
Emilio got to his feet, unable to stand the headache any longer. "There's nothing complicated about it. There's no way anyone could break into the place so Tony had to be shot by someone who had a set of keys and knew how to turn off the security system from outside. Only four people knew how. Tony, myself, George, and Peter."
"What about Cara?"
Emilio shook his head and started towards the door. "She never came to the villa unless one of us was there to let her in. It has to be Peter. Now, if you don't mind I've got a splitting headache and I don't feel too good." He reached for the door handle, missed it and sank to his knees.
Three days later
"Pepe!" On his way out of the hospital, Torres turned to find Doctor Monzanoz hurrying towards him. "Could you do me a favour?" She reached into her hospital coat pocket and held out an envelope. "These are the results of Emilio's blood tests and I promised I would get them to him before he left for the States. Unfortunately I have an emergency operation to perform and his plane leaves in twenty minutes. Do you think you could get these to him and tell him he must see his own doctor as soon as possible."
Torres smiled as he accepted the envelope. "Anna, I would do anything for you. You know that." He tucked the envelope away in the breast pocket of his uniform and saluted her. "I will see he get it before he leaves."
* * *
Monday 28th November, 1994
From his bedroom window at the Nashville house, Emilio watched the last of the funeral guests drive away then made his way downstairs. The Grafton brothers wanted to talk to him. Again? Tony's will had been read and the winding up of his affairs begun. That leaves only one item left on their agenda. Me. What to do with a fifteen year old, mentally disturbed, teenager? Well, that was the tag a colleague of George's put on me, wasn't it? Th e study door was slightly ajar. He approached it and heard Edward Grafton say, "I expected him to show some outward sign of grief, by now."
"You'll wait a long time for that," he heard George reply. "If you want to know where you stand with him, watch his eyes. They'll draw you in and make you feel special or dump you in the trashcan. He'll stand you in an arctic blizzard or incinerate you. We've had a difficult three years trying to get him to open up about what happened to him. That sketchpad tells me he's ready to talk but I guess the barriers will be up again. He holds his emotions so tight inside he ends up with panic attacks and upset stomachs, interspersed with bouts of aggression and anger, and unbelievable calm. Tony taught him how to handle his anger but occasionally it breaks through. When that happens, dive for cover. We just have to ride out the storm and give him as much support as we can till he gets a grip on himself. I wish all my patients came through as well as Emilio."
Not wanting to give them a chance to talk about him any further, Emilio thrust open the door and three pairs of eyes looked up at him from across Tony's desk. The diaries George spoke about lay open on the ebony desk. They were a history of Tony's private life and, though Tony had invited him to, Emilio had never read them. As far as he was concerned, no one else should read them either. He hoped the look he gave them froze their innards. Try the Arctic for size, guys. At least George looked guilty. Emilio checked the cream and black study. Most of the furniture had already been moved out. He'd spent many hours studying in this room with Tony and a couple of other tutors. Now it looked cold and ... Tony wasn't there any more. A sense of loneliness gripped him. He took a deep breath and walked towards the desk.
Two men were kneeling in front of an open glass cabinet, carefully wrapping each treasured piece in bubble wrap before placing them in a large crate; most of them awards or souvenirs. He passed too close to a coffee table, on which some figurines had been placed, and caught one with the edge of his topcoat. It toppled over and one of the men glared at him. " Hey, kid, be more careful."
Returning the man's glare, Emilio picked up the fallen figurine and tossed it gently in his hand. Tony had hated the ugly, modern art piece made of garish bits of red and blue glass; a gift from a Country and Western star with an outsize ego. The guy expected to see it on view on his frequent visits to the house. Emilio didn't like it either, and the ongoing contest between him and Tony had been who could come up with the best way to 'accidentally' break it without offending Hoss Lingar. Emilio held the piece at arms length. The man reached for it, his fingers almost closing round it, then Emilio let it go. The ornament smashed on the tiles. Emilio said, "Whoops!" and turned towards the desk. The man mumbled a curse behind him.
"It's okay Gerry," George said, "they're his now. He can smash them all if he wants to."
The Grafton brothers frowned their disapproval as Emilio sat down in the easy chair drawn up in front of the desk. He folded his arms tightly across his chest and glared his defiance at them. George's eyes held a glint of amusement as he and the brothers settled themselves in the office chairs behind the desk.
Edward cleared his throat. "There is something important we need to discuss with you. We have to be back in London by Wednesday evening so we haven't much time." Two long white envelopes lay beside the diaries. He picked one up. "About two months ago, Tony wrote and asked us to make some arrangements for your welfare. By the look on your face when you came in, I presume that you think we were invading Tony's privacy by reading his diaries. Tony instructed us to read them and George kindly marked the entries concerning yourself." Emilio's glanced at the slips of paper sticking out of the pages of the open diary.
George said, "For the last three years, I've been hoping you'd remember your past life on your own. I wish I'd known what was in these books; it would have made things a lot easier. Now the circumstances have changed. Tony's death is a major set back, I know, but you're fifteen now, and showing yourself to be a capable young man."
Edward slid the envelope across the desk. "Ms. Achres found these two letters among Tony's papers at the villa and decided to hide them before the police got their hands on them. One was addressed to us; this one is addressed to you."
Good old Gillian. You've got these three eating out of your hands already. He took the envelope, eased it open and unfolded the single sheet of paper. His heart heaved as he read the familiar, copperplate writing.
I can't explain how I feel, but I have a sense of foreboding about the immediate future. Rather dramatic, I know, but there we are. I hope you will be reunited with your family, should anything happen to me. Under George's guidance, I urge you to read my diaries. They include a record of the little I know of your life. I hope they will help you remember your family and your past, the happy times as well as the painful ones.
Your father, Guido, is in prison for drug trafficking and assault. He is due for release at the end of the year. The diaries will explain the reasons why I believe this man to be dangerous. My brothers will take over your guardianship till they find your mother. They will execute any arrangements I have made on your behalf, and George will continue to care for your mental welfare as he has done these last three years. I will always be with you, in spirit if not in body. You can always talk to me through the many talents you have acquired so quickly, through the music you make, through the songs you sing, and through your grace and poise when you dance, be it on the ice or on the stage.
Remember, Emilio, to trust in The Lord Jesus Christ in all things.
Emilio slid the letter back into the envelope and slipped it into his inside coat pocket and remained silent, thinking hard. After a few moments he blinked and found Edward holding out the second letter. "Here is the letter Tony wrote to us. We'd like you to read it."
"I'd rather not.
"Any particular reason?"
"Yeah, I don't want to know."
What is it with these guys? Can't they see I'm having a bad enough time coping with losing Tony without having to face my nightmares too? Suddenly the room seemed too hot. He needed some air. Rising to his feet, he moved away from the desk and headed for the large French windows leading onto the rear patio and the gardens beyond. Reaching them, Emilio stared out at the darkening garden beyond. Tony had been in his grave only a few hours and they expected him to sit down like a good boy and listen to them talk about plans for his future. Well, he didn't feel like being a good boy.
The first time Tony and George said he had been abused as a child, and mentioned a rehabilitation program, he'd gone ballistic. No way was he going to be used as a guinea pig in some medical experiment to prove a theory that a kid saved from a childhood of abuse could be turned into a normal, well-adjusted young man, given the right help. Then George had mentioned that Emilio could help future victims in similar circumstances. If he could make it in this big bad world, so could they. Reluctantly, he had agreed to the venture and Tony had brought him back to Nashville.
He was still amazed how fast he took to it. From waking to falling asleep, his days had been packed with new things and new activities – ballet and jazz dance, singing, music, travel, and Martial Arts. He tried them all and loved them all, and the stage and the ice rink drew him like a magnet, but music and dance topped everything. They were king. He knew he was good. Some of the big names of Country and Western music, whose biographies Tony wrote, said he was going be big one day. But what about now? Would any of them step forward to take over what Tony started? He doubted it, but that wasn't the biggest chasm that beckoned him. It was the guilt he felt; guilt so intense and private, he could never speak of it. With Tony's death, it seemed the wrath of God had come down upon him, and now he was left alone to face the punishment; doomed, never to be forgiven, never to step inside a house of God again.
Pressing his forehead against the window, he closed his eyes against the cloud of black despair. Don't cry, Mustn't cry. Fight it. Control it. Don't let people see. He couldn't breathe and things got blurred. Somehow he got the doors open and stumbled out onto the patio. The next thing he knew he was sitting on a chair by one of the wrought iron tables, shaking and fighting to breathe while his heart pounded so hard it seemed to want to break out of his chest. Thousands of ants crawled around in his stomach. Next would come the cramps and the nausea. As a biting November wind cooled the sweat on his face, footsteps sounded behind him. Someone had followed him out onto the patio.
"Are you all right?" Edward's concerned voice echoed somewhere above him.
Emilio clenched his teeth. "If you've come to give me a lecture, you can save your breath."
"That was not my intention," Edward replied. He sat own on a chair opposite Emilio and crossed his legs. "I apologise for seeming to push things along but we have to decide where you are going to live."
"I'm not leaving here. I have some Christmas shows to do. Tony wouldn't have wanted me to run out on them."
"I wish you could stay here, it's a beautiful old house. Unfortunately, it belongs to Peter. This was Tony's first wife's house and in her will she named Tony as resident custodian till he died or Peter reached his twenty-first birthday. The Grafton family doesn't have much time for Peter; he's arrogant, deceitful, and a thorough bad egg. It's his own fault, not yours, that Tony wrote him out of his will. In the diaries, Tony wrote that Peter did something to you for which he would never forgive him."
Emilio stared hard at the table, feeling the barrister's stern eyes boring into him. He wished the man would go back inside and leave him alone. Emilio understood that the man was trying to be kind in his own aloof way, but he felt too tired and vexed to form a fitting reply. As if reading his mind, Edward stood up and checked his overcoat for flecks of white paint from the chair. "We certainly wouldn't want you to cancel your immediate plans. I'm sure we can arrive at an amicable arrangement. At least you don't have to struggle through all the legal minefields of having to uproot yourself. We'll take care of everything and you can monitor our progress any time you wish." At last, Emilio glanced up and found the man gazing at him, his craggy feature softening with understanding. "We all grieve in our own way, Emilio. Remember we have lost someone dear to us too. Just don't be hard on yourself." Reaching into his coat pocket, he drew out the second envelope, and dropped it on the table. "There is another reason why you need to read this letter and why we have to move fast. Your stepfather has issued further threats from his prison cell, repeating his desire to find you with intent to cause you further harm. As he is due to be released from prison at the end of next month, and with the possibility that whoever killed Tony will target you as well, we need to move you to a safe place. England seems the best option." In a move quite alien to him, he patted Emilio on the shoulder. "Don't stay out here too long. It's cold out here."
Emilio shrugged and picked at the paint on the tabletop, He was damned if was going back inside just to please a pompous wig wearer. Why can't they just leave me alone? He just wanted to go home to Tamarigo and sit in the sun. But where was home? He shivered and pulled his coat collar up, then shoved his hands into opposite coat sleeves. He tried to ignore the letter. He wanted to forget the past, but if he opened the letter he could be confronting the future, which he didn't want to do either. He freed one hand and pushed the letter away from him, just as George appeared. Oh, no! Not another lecture.
George eased his bulk into the chair Edward had vacated. "What Edward wants to talk to you about is Tony's will."
"I told Tony, I don't want anything," Emilio went back to picking at the paint.
George leaned forward over the table. "Listen, kid, Tony didn't foster you just because he wanted a substitute for Peter. Boys like you were his primary concern, which is why he never refused Edward's requests for financial aid for his own charitable endeavours in the UK. In Tony's will, there is a portion of his estate set aside for the care and rehabilitation of children found in the same predicament as you, with Edward and Thomas as trustees. As I suggested at the hospital, it would be a nice memorial to Tony if you and I carried on what he began?"
While Emilio sat in confused silence, George heaved himself out of his chair, and rubbed his hands together. "It's getting cold out here, and we've still got a load of talking to do, so don't stay out here too long, okay?'
Yeah, yeah, yeah, same old broken record. After George left him, Emilio examined the letter and read it twice. At last, he crumpled the letter and closed his eyes. He wanted to grieve so desperately. He wanted to cry, but crying was bad, it only brought more pain. The voice in his head said so.
[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.]