Clarissa knew that a murder had been committed. She knew who had done it, and she knew how he had done it. But she also knew that nobody would ever listen to her. Nobody would pay any attention to her. Who was going to believe that Benjamin Rawlston had committed a brutal murder? Who was going to believe that he had done anything wrong at all? That he would so much as park where he shouldn’t or re-use a postage stamp that had escaped the franking machine? Not that he would need to do the latter.

     Benjamin was the kind of man that people called the golden boy long after his boyhood was left behind. His family were well-off – his father was the Rodney Rawlston of Rawlstons’ Removals, their bright blue moving trucks familiar to people across four counties. The firm had been founded by his grandfather, but even he had been pretty well off. They were the kind of firm people trusted, just as Benjamin was the kind of person people trusted. There were certain phrases that you knew would be brought out when folk were talking about Benjamin. He had class, but there was no side to him. He was an absolute gentleman and treated everyone else like a lady or a gentleman. He was a generous tipper but not a showy one, someone who could dress smartly but was just as happy (and just as handsome) in jeans and an old Aran sweater. He had brains, but he wasn’t too clever for his own good.

     You couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about him, and they didn’t need much prompting to say good ones. He was a patron of the local Special Needs group and the War Memorial Restoration Fund.

     It was quite odd that he had got into his middle thirties and hadn’t found a woman to share his life with, though he’d had girlfriends, and all of them praised him to the skies and several of them were friends with each other. For a while there was a rumour of sorts that he was gay, and even the sort of folk who said they weren’t homophobic but would only have wished him well. Nobody really believed it, though, and were right not to.

     But even though the golden boy couldn’t put a foot wrong, lips were pursed and heads shaken when he started to go out with Clarissa Bentley. As the more cruel people who thought themselves witty said, the only classy thing about her was her name. She had been brought up on the sprawling housing estate on the edges of town where all the roads were called after royal residences – the one where she and her Mum and her two sisters and brother lived glorying in the name of Sandringham Close. They didn’t all have different fathers, but they didn’t all have the same one, either. Still, her Mum did have quite fancy tastes in names. Her sisters were called Selena and Tamsin, and her brother was called Jacklin, though he would only ever answer to Jack and had once beaten up a boy at school for persisting in tormenting him over his name. His Mum had mixed feelings on that. Though she was generally lenient in her ways, she had firm views on fighting and fisticuffs, and fretted about Jack taking after his father, who was currently in one of her Majesty’s different kind of residences for benefits fraud. Still, a part of her didn’t blame him. Clarissa, the middle sister, was seen as the family’s Great Hope. She did well at school and was particularly good at English. For a while she entertained a notion that she had been called after the Virginia Woolf character Clarissa Dalloway, but her Mum burst that particular bubble by telling her she had, indeed, been called after someone in a book, but it was an Enid Blyton one. 

     Clarissa (who hated being called Clarrie as much as Jacklin hated being called Jack, though she had never resorted to fisticuffs, her tongue being sufficient weapon) kept her nose clean, as people said. She stayed on at school to do her A-levels, and then went to University, working part time as a waitress to help finance it. Her intellectual abilities were probably on a par with Benjamin’s – she wasn’t a brilliant student, but she was able and hard-working, and in time she qualified as a teacher. But all the same, there were still, if not to her face, comments along the lines of, you could take the girl out of the estate, but you couldn’t take the estate out of the girl. Despite everything, she loved her family, but had resigned herself to the fact that though the love was mutual, she was the good girl of the Bentley clan, and nobody had any especial urge to emulate her. After several years as “single and happy”, her Mum had found herself a new “gentleman in her life”, called Lewis, who seemed harmless enough, but had an irritating habit of tapping his nose when he was referring to something shady. He was also the worst soup-slurper Clarissa had ever encountered, and with Jack in the family, that took some doing. 

     She and Benjamin met at a meeting of the steering committee for the local Special Needs Group. She had several pupils who fell into this category and was courteously referred to as a valued advisor

     She and Benjamin hit it off at once, or so she thought. She had known him by sight, of course, but they moved in different circles, even though she had, as her Mum put it (and she was never quite sure if it were approving or sarcastic) gone up in the world. Rather to her surprise, his charm did not  come over as facile, and he seemed genuinely interested in the charity. He made vague reference to a cousin of his who “had that kind of issue”, and Clarissa respected the fact that it appeared that, at least for the moment, he preferred not to talk about it. 

     They went to the Firkin and Flashbulb for a drink after the meeting, and discovered that they both had a weakness for home improvement shows on TV, though not so much in real life (and when she thought well, he can pay for someone to do it it was without rancour) and thought that Real Ale was over-rated. Neither of them, it seemed, was at pains to keep it from their families, but neither was in a hurry to tell them all the details either.

     Anyone who thinks class-consciousness is a thing of the past should (or if they prefer to keep their illusions, perhaps should not) spend a while in a small East Anglian market town. Oh, to be sure, by the 2nd decade of the 21st century it has become a more subtle and less overt thing. There may still be those who care particularly about whether you refer to a napkin or a serviette, to the lounge or to the living room, or whatever, and who have strong opinions on long vowels and the way a fork is held. But for the most part, they certainly wouldn’t admit to it. But that is not to say that either New Labour or the One Nation Conservatives, or the Internet, or ubiquitous Estuary English even spoken by the Heir or the Spare had banished any concern about such matters. And (and perhaps it was ever thus) the inverted kind of snobbishness was every bit as pervasive. When Clarissa’s family realised that she and Benjamin didn’t just “keep company” because they worked for the same charity, they didn’t hesitate to make their feelings known. Her Mum said she quite liked him, but she always thought the best of everyone, or liked folk to think she did. Lewis thought he was smarmy, but he thought that about a lot of people, and Selena, who was currently all loved up herself with Barry from the Butchers was too wrapped up in her own love life to be much bothered with her sister. Jack, of course, had other things to worry about. But Tamsin let it be known that she wasn’t happy. Clarissa, to use one of her Mum’s favourite expressions, could never quite bottom her little sister. Or probably half sister. Half the time she seemed to be in a world of her own, and she was a firm believer in the powers of crystals and the existence of unicorns, though it was impossible to tell how much she meant it ironically. She was both childish and an old head on young shoulders. But there was some notion that she was fey, and knew things other folk didn’t. Clarissa humoured her without indulging her, frankly thinking she was a bit silly and it was time she stopped acting as if she were a mixture between a thirteen year old and a gipsy fortune teller. But the thing was, if David Martello had been her father (and nobody was really sure) his grandmother had been a gipsy. Well, a traveller. 

     “Clarissa, I don’t like him and I don’t trust him,” she said. “And it’s nothing to do with him being posh and having money – I know you won’t believe me, but it isn’t. He has a bad look in his eyes.”

     “Oh, come on, Tamsin,” Clarissa said, determinedly not unkind. “You’re just listening too much to Lewis.”

     “Between you and I,” (Clarissa bit her tongue to stop herself automatically correcting it to “between you and me”) “I don’t really like Lewis that much. Oh, don’t worry, he’s never done, well, anything he shouldn’t to me, but I don’t pay him much heed. It’s nothing to do with him. But Benjamin gives me the creeps.”

     “Oh, come on, don’t fret about it,” Clarissa said, frustrated but oddly touched at her concern. Not that there was anything to what Tamsin was saying, of course.

     Benjamin’s family were polite to Clarissa. She got the idea that his father quite liked her, his mother didn’t, but probably thought Benjamin would get over his fixation on the girl from Sandringham Close, and it wasn’t worth falling out with him over it. 

     But one thing was for sure, thought Clarissa. None of his family, not his mother, nor his father, nor his power-dressing sister Helena would entertain the motion that he could commit any crime, let alone the ultimate one. It wasn’t because they were blind to faults just because of family loyalty, though they were a close family (or at any rate liked to give that impression) but it made there being a blizzard in June look positively probably in comparison. He was the golden boy. The boy who had not only looks and charm and brains (within reason) but because he was such a good person. A decent and caring person who wouldn’t hurt the proverbial fly. The kind of man who was made for the phrase strong but gentle

     Things moved on very nicely. The two of them had their first holiday together. Only a long weekend in Northumberland, and the kind of hotel that went out of its way not to be pretentious. They walked in the rugged countryside and visited Durham’s wonderful cathedral, and agreed they were sorry that the long weekend couldn’t turn into a week. “Perhaps it could,” he said, “We could book another week, you know. I could fix it in a minute.”

     She would have been lying if she’d said there wasn’t a hiatus of temptation. But she shook her head, “No, Ben, it wouldn’t do. I have to be back at work on Tuesday.”

     “Such a devoted teacher,” he said. And he said it warmly and admiringly. Didn’t he? Ben was no idler himself. He was involved in the family firm and also had what he called his “Own business interests”. She knew he was quite expert on the matter of antiques, and despite chiding herself couldn’t help shuddering at the thought of him visiting the house on Sandringham Place and seeing her Mum’s cherished collection of Capodimonte porcelain and plates with pictures of shire horses and British monarchs. 

     He proposed to her over a quiet dinner in the kind of discreet and expensive restaurant where the waiters never hovered but always seemed to know exactly when you needed their services. She had never really developed a taste for oysters or steak cooked rare, and didn’t see why wine had to taste of anything but, well, grapes and alcohol, but hadn’t been brought up to be a fussy eater and it would have been ungrateful to say she would have much preferred to go to Bella Italia and have a plate of pasta washed down with cheap white wine. He produced a beautiful ring, diamonds and opals, and on a twisted gold band. She accepted, and everyone in the restaurant applauded. He blushed and almost seemed to look angry for a minute, then the famous smile that lit up a room dutifully lit up his face again and he said, “Maybe the public proposal wasn’t a good idea. I hope I didn’t embarrass you!” It was pretty clear that he was the one who was embarrassed. As folk said, he could be endearingly shy, and it was part of his charm. Even though he could also chat away to anyone. Clarissa assured him it was fine, and tried to assure herself that had only imagined that brief look on his face that wasn’t the look of the golden boy at all. Well, what of it if he WAS angry, she thought. Nobody’s perfect! It’s almost reassuring!

     As Clarissa had expected (and she wondered whether she should have told them yet but Ben didn’t say one way or the other) she got mixed reactions from the family. But she was rather surprised that it was Serena, not Tamsin, who looked the most – well, stricken. Tamsin had her I have bad vibes and you won’t be able to say I didn’t warn you face on, and by now that was more or less default and Clarissa didn’t pay it much heed. But Serena was another matter. She was a nice girl, but didn’t have much imagination or any pretentions to psychic ability, and Barry from the Butchers took up most of her mind.

     She took her to one side, and said, “Clarissa, I genuinely don’t want to tell you this and I’m not just saying it. When Barry first told me I didn’t believe him, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I don’t think they realised and …. while you and Ben were going out but hadn’t, well, made anything official ….”

     “I’m not going to listen to gossip!” she informed her, only too aware that she was. “He said “You know that posh bloke your sister is dating? The golden boy? Well, he’s seeing another woman and I don’t just mean seeing.” And he was telling the truth, sis.”

     “I’m not listening to this,” Clarissa said, and carried on listening. Barry had been delivering some steaks round to Barry’s house, and because someone else had cancelled a delivery, he’d arrived early. “And oh yes, they’d got dressed in a hurry, and you couldn’t say they weren’t dressed, and only Ben came to the door but he could see the girl and they had that look about them, that look – well, you know ….” Serena could be surprisingly coy. And she did know.

     “There’s just some misunderstanding,” Clarissa said. “I know you mean well, but I don’t want to hear anything else about it.”

     Ben didn’t want to hear anything about it either. Clarissa tried to make a joke out of it, to make it plain that she didn’t believe a word of it and her sister was an expert at getting the wrong end of the stick and she knew it would be something and nothing.

     It wasn’t something and nothing. That face Clarissa could not quite convince herself she hadn’t seen and could not quite convince herself was nothing to worry about multiplied a thousand fold. And he took out a knife, not just any old kitchen knife, but some posh, dagger like thing, and plunged it into her heart.

     She was found by the canal by the almost compulsory dog walker. And of course it would not occur to anyone that the Golden Boy would so much as swat a fly, and everyone felt very sorry for him, and his family and friends said yes, he had been friends with that girl from Sandringham Close, the schoolteacher whose brother was a jailbird, but everyone knew the real love of his life was Barbara Hewson.

     But Clarissa knew this. He would never know a comfortable night’s sleep in his life, and would always dread the phonecall and the knock at the door, and the overheard snatch of conversation.

November 13, 2020 08:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.