White Rabbits & A Haunted Postbox – Part I

 One: White Rabbits And A Haunted Postbox

In which an unfortunate retainer’s brush with death leads to an unlikely revelation and a routine meeting hints at various shenanigans. We also hear of a ghostly apparition and witness a bid for freedom.

It’s summer. To be precise: August, 1998. White wings flash as a seabird climbs into the sky. Sunlight glints off rooftops still wet from the most recent shower. Down in the harbour, a loose sail flaps and cracks in the wind.
The gull turns, a jarring cry coming from its beak. It drops towards the town then swoops up again, heading for the crenellated façade of the big house that looms over King’s Port.

Splat!

As the gull vanishes from view, a beige explosion obliterates a large portion of the view from the first floor of Tower House.

‘Hawkins. Clean that window.’

‘Right away, sir.’ Scurrying towards the window, Ned Hawkins pulls a cloth from his pocket and starts wiping at the glass.

‘Not this side, you fool. Clean the outside.’

‘But…’

‘Just wipe that muck off.’

‘But…’

‘Just do it, man.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Fumbling awkwardly, Ned opens the low door set into the wall next to the window. He looks through timidly. The narrow balcony outside is barely two foot wide: the waist-high railings almost eaten away by decades of rust.

‘Sir?’

‘Close the door after you, Hawkins. You’re letting in a cold breeze.’

‘Right, sir. Yes, sir.’

As Ned reluctantly exits, Clarence Wherry turns away. He dismisses his unfortunate assistant from his mind. Instead, he directs his attention to the matter at hand. His agitation shows in a small tic in the corner of his left eye. The problem is the accounts. The details are as muddled and unhelpful as possible but he can’t fake them completely. Certain information still has to be there: such as a profit and loss summary for the whole company.

Clarence knows the accounts are accurate; he prepared them. Which is why he’s worried. It’s not the future of the company that concerns him. More disturbing is the jeopardy facing his own position. If help doesn’t arrive, it’s hard to see how he can prevent the whole house of cards from tumbling.

After arranging his papers, Clarence sits down. His joint roles as company general manager and family steward mean there’s no one to challenge him for the seat at the head of the table. It’s a large table too. A solid chunk of age-blackened oak that could comfortably seat twenty people: even though it’s rare to see more than seven or eight around it these days.

The table is the largest piece of furniture. But it’s the portraits that dominate the boardroom. Six generations of the Black Family stare down their oil-painted noses at anyone with the temerity to come before their gaze.

In pride of place, behind the head of the table, hangs Lord Augustus Black: slaver, part-time pirate, prison governor and founder of the dynasty that has controlled the island for almost three centuries. To either side, various descendants represent the generations that followed.

Against the left-hand wall stands the imposing figure of General Sir Jeremiah Black, painted in full military regalia. By the age of twenty-eight, he was already a full colonel, a veteran of both the Boer and First World Wars. Promoted at the outbreak of the Second World War, the general died rather ingloriously in 1942. Back in London following the British retreat from Burma, Sir Jeremiah was enjoying a spot of leave when he crashed his staff car. Gossip said he’d been driving himself to a striptease show at the Windmill Theatre. The official report also made no mention of the empty brandy bottle found between his legs.

Next to Sir Jeremiah’s painting is that of his son: the last of the line. Captain Joseph Black’s portrait looks semi-opaque. It’s appropriate; he was killed barely two years after inheriting the Black family fortunes and the painting never finished.

Clarence pays no attention to the pictures. They’ve been there all his life and the dead members of the Black Family no longer intimidate him. He likes them in their place: as paintings on the wall and names on ledgers and letterheads. The rigmarole of company meetings still irks him. It’s bad enough having to present the members with his report; having to inform them of his actions and seek approval seems almost demeaning.

To be continued…

I hope you enjoyed the above. This is the opening of my new novel, Church of the White Rabbits.

I’m going to serialise the book by posting it in short(ish) sections. I’ll aim for daily posts but there might be odd gaps depending on whether other events that conspire against me… like paid work, holidays, or absent mindedness!

Comments and observations are welcome. I hope to publish the full novel later in the spring.

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