Characters & excerpts
Rollo Hastings: The Grandmaster of Gastrosensuality!
She leaned away again, and this time, she undid the belt of the dressing gown and slipped the soft fabric away from her shoulders, revealing her nakedness to me. I slid out of my chair and we knelt together before the fire, and I kissed her neck and shoulders. She took my face in her hands and brought her mouth so very closely to mine.
‘What about the main course,’ she breathed.
‘Dover Sole, steamed new potatoes, pan fried asparagus, brought together in a light, beurre blanc.’
‘Oh my god,’ she moaned, and let her head and her long hair hang backwards.
I could see her body, radiant in the warm light of the room. I bent down and kissed her breasts, and she arced over me and pulled the black Tee-shirt I was wearing up over my back and head. It was one of my favourites, purchased from the quite fabulous, Adolpho Dominguez store in Palma de Mallorca. And then she turned and pushed her chair way from us and lay back upon the carpet, allowing my dressing gown to fall completely away from her body.
I looked at her. I looked at her face. I allowed my eyes to drop down towards her breasts and then to her flat belly. I wanted to savour every single part of her. I relieved myself of the rest of my clothing and lay down between her legs, and she reached for me and guided me towards her.
And I swear, despite all the women I have known, despite all the gratuitous sex I had been a party to, nothing in my entire life felt exactly like that moment.
Nor would it ever again.
She knew I was about to lose control of myself.
‘You’ve forgotten the wine.’ She smiled up at me as we moved together.
‘Ha,’ I nearly cried, ‘I have a very rare Chenin Blanc from South Africa.’
‘Oh, tell me.’ She squirmed beneath me.
‘It was first introduced to South Africa back as far as the sixteen hundreds,’ I panted, ‘but was forsaken in modern times for more popular varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc.’
‘More!’ she gasped.
‘The Chenin blanc grape is subject to noble rot that imparts unique flavours and aromas,’ I grunted.
‘Yes!’ she cried out, lifting her hips to clash with my groin.
‘Only recently, Chenin Blanc, known locally as Steen, has found favour again. It produces a marvelous, aromatic wine with notes of lychee and grapefruit!’ I yelled.
‘Yes!’ she cried again.
I was just about to point out the differences between South African Chenin Blanc and, say, North American Chardonnay, which is overly processed, resulting in ostentatious, oak and buttery flavours, but it was all too much for my fragile disposition, and I collapsed upon her in a wave, of marvelous, exquisite, release.
Next time, I vowed to myself that I’d go into great detail regarding the complex viniculture surrounding the art of champagne production. It would have greatly prolonged our love-making.
‘Did we just have gastro-sex?’ she whispered into my ear.
‘Hmmm,’ I sighed, ‘next time, I promise we’ll have a culinarial hors d’oeuvre.’
‘It sounds dirty and delicious. Is there is such a thing?’ she asked me.
‘There certainly should be. I’ll suggest it to the boys next time I’m up in Oxford.’
‘Good luck with helping them define it.’ She laughed.
DCI Stella Crooke:
‘Mr. Hastings, I’m Inspector Stella Crooke, and this is Sargent Jimmy Ellis. We are both CID,’ she informed me.
I smiled. It was a smile that was borderline funny.
‘Something funny, Mr. Hastings?’ she asked.
I saw how dangerous my smirk was. ‘I’m sorry. This is like a bad dream. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up, but it’s rapidly turning into a nightmare. And now you’re telling me that you’re Inspector Crook.’
Jimmy Ellis didn't stop himself from grinning.
‘Yes. As in the old English bend in a river, or a shepherd’s implement. Crooke with an E,’ she explained.
In the corner, close to the bar, Adrian Adriana sat at his piano, his fingers tapping out Bach as if he’d written the notes himself. I acknowledged him with a gentle smile and a slow nod, and then seated myself upon a stainless-steel stool and ordered a glass of Dom Perignon from a barman whom I’d not seen before.
I tasted the wine, and it was quite acceptable. I don’t really enjoy the flavour of Champaign. I like the heritage. I like the skill. The patient remuage. The concept of taking the ordinary and making it spectacular through simple human ingenuity and endeavour.
But I could never drink an entire bottle of the stuff.
Whereas I might be incapable of pulling off the film-star look, Inspector Stella Crooke possessed it as if she’d been born with it. She flowed into the room, holding David’s arm and chatting to him as he were the only man in the world worthy of her conversation. Her evening dress was the colour of blood, contrasting her bunched-up, gloriously blond mane. Her throat gleamed with a hint of gold, and she was tall, and she was elegant. And she turned every head in the room.
And there I was, in a foolish attempt to impress her.
I nearly choked on an unwise gulp of bubbly.
Gina Ginelli (Private investigator):
I could have fallen in love with Gina Ginelli just because of her name. The fact that she was small and compact and olive like a sun-kissed memory of the Mediterranean made her almost irresistible.
‘They’ve gone through all your financials. They know everything about your business and personal situations. They can’t pin anything to you, but they think your bent. Looks like the violin has left the country. The girl in the café was Jennifer Golding. Looks like she’s left the country too.’
‘Can you link her to anyone?’ I asked.
‘Sure. Hundreds of some ones. Anyone in particular?’
‘How about someone I know,’ I sighed, but I could see the futility of the question. If I didn't elaborate with Gina, she had no way of connecting any dots that might seem familiar to me.
‘Not at this time,’ she replied. That was code for stop talking rubbish.
‘OK. If the violin has left the country, it wasn’t a random attack. It was aimed directly at her, or at me.’
‘Why you? Do you have a jealous lover?’
I realised my mistake immediately; you could not afford glib remarks when conversing with Gina. She was as sharp as a butcher’s knife.
Jimmy Ellis (Police officer):
‘We’ve interviewed the rest of the quartet and a larger number of other orchestra members. Seems like musicians are a pretty promiscuous bunch,’ Jimmy grinned with considerable relish.
‘I don’t know anything about that. I don’t go on tour with them, but I’d be amazed if Stevie and Van were lovers.’
‘Why’s that?’ Stella asked.
‘Because Stefan Purdy is gay,’ I replied with great satisfaction.
‘That’s not what we’ve been told,’ Jimmy shot straight back at me. ‘He might swing both ways a bit, but apparently, when it comes to orchestral manoeuvres in the dark, that lot are ‘appy to pluck the nearest instrument that come to hand, sota speak.’
I regarded the stout police officer. He was enjoying himself immensely. He was getting to me, and he was making a good point; I myself had frequently benefited from Vanessa’s open sexual nature. Particularly her appreciation of beautiful young women.
To drive that point home, Stella added, ‘Sexual jealously is a very common motive for violent crime.’
I flicked my eyes to her, ‘That may be. Vanessa was a virtuosa violinist, but not so virtuous when it came to her sexuality. But I knew that right from the get go, and as far as I was aware, her interest was in other women,’ I told her.
‘Nice,’ Jimmy laughed at my use of words, ‘I could get to like you.’
‘Shame,’ I told him.
Stefan Purdy (Concert Conductor):
‘Jesus Christ! What the fuck?’ he yelled.
‘Relax, Stevie. It’s your old buddy, Rollo, just paying a social visit,’ I informed him.
He stood, looking somewhat bewildered at me from the hallway, his blondish hair covering one side of his face like a Highland cow I’d once seen on a postcard from Aberdeen. Only the cow looked slightly more intelligent.
‘Get out or I’ll call the police,’ he said more firmly.
‘Not pleased to see me, Stevie? Why’s that?’
‘You’re intruding, that’s why.’
‘Be my guest. Call the police, I’d be interested to hear that conversation.’ Lord, it felt good to see him so alarmed.
‘Fuck me, Rollo, you nearly gave me a heart attack.’ His tone changed abruptly, and he started to take off his overcoat. ‘Go ahead, make yourself at home then,’ he added, feigning relaxation.
But it was bullshit. Stevie was quaking in his boots. I could almost see him shaking.
Uncle Freddie (Rollo's uncle):
I know you, my dear boy. I know how you operate. I know how you think. As does many of your associates,’ he said, slowly.
‘That’s not good enough. And it’s certainly not reason enough.’ I allowed my anger to show.
‘I agree on both counts,’ he responded, ‘but I assure you, I have no knowledge of any vendetta against you.’
‘Christ, Uncle Freddie, I never dreamed it would come to this! Vanessa did nothing. She knew nothing. All she ever wanted, was to fill the world with melody.’
And for the first time since her death, I felt my voice quiver ever so slightly.
‘Men like me and Edwardo will soon be extinct. And men like you, Rollo, are right at the top of the endangered list. There is no place for any of us in this world of computers and over-regulation and corporate transparency. If we are to enjoy the fruits of our labour, we must be ruthless. Only then can we afford to step away from the game and live the rest of our lives as we see fit. You must talk to Edwardo,’ he said, softly.
‘Will he come to London?’
‘Of course he won’t come to London! You must go to him. You must show your respect. And your loyalty.’
‘Uncle, I don’t owe him a damned thing! I hissed.
Edwardo Cassini (Milano businessman):
Edwardo met me in the dining room with a glass of home-made wine which, as Stella would say, was certainly not plonk.
‘Rollo,’ he smiled warmly, ‘you manage to make understatement so stylish. Myself, I need a little help.’ He was referring to the almost grotesque jacket that he wore. It was paisley and embroidered gold. It contained the colours of autumn, and it probably cost as much as one of his grape-picker’s annual salary.
‘Don Edwardo, you shine like the sun,’ I assured him, accepting the proffered glass.
Edwardo was sleek like a greyhound, but dark of feature, reflecting his Romany heritage. His eyes were black. His brows were heavy, and he wore his midnight hair slicked back against his head. If you delved far enough into his family line, you’d discover that they originated in the Punjab, and had very little to do with Rome. But it would be most unwise to discuss that fact over dinner.
Or, indeed, any other time.
Clara Cassini (Edwardo's wife):
Clara is quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the known universe. She’s Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn all rolled up into a luscious, pasta making, herb growing, wine producing, matriarch that a man such as myself can’t keep himself from drooling over. But only in his dreams. Careless conduct regarding Carla Cassini could leave a man’s testicles dangling from a slit throat.
‘Rrrrollo!’ Carla purred like a satiated lioness and hugged me as if I was a half-forgotten lover returned from the war, and I could not refrain from a self-conscious gulp, and both my testicles tingled alarmingly.
I took Clara Cassini in my arms. I kissed her mouth as if I were in a rage. I ran my hands over her heavy breasts, feeling their weight, their smooth texture, and the hardness of her erect nipples. Her mouth was cool, and our tongues entwined like an orgy of snakes.
And then she stepped away from me, out of my embrace.
‘No, Rrrollo. You must keep yourself for the one you love!’ she moaned.
‘Right! Yes, of course. Exactly what was going through my mind,’ I exclaimed, breathlessly.
‘But,’ she said, ‘If love is not all it turns out to be, come back and find me. Promise me that?’
‘In a heart beat,’ I grinned. But I didn't really mean it.
‘Don’t forget your pistol.’ She looked at the coffee table with raised eyebrows.
Colin (Rollo's bestest friend):
Colin opened the door of the cast-iron stove, took the mobile from me, extracted the battery, and tossed the body of the phone inside, closing the heavy door as quickly as possible.
‘Just in case it decides to explode,’ he explained.
‘Why did you do that?’
‘Look inside the bag.’ He instructed me.
I opened the plastic bag and peeked into it, seeing four, similar mobile phones.
‘They are numbered one to four. Each one has twenty pounds of pre-paid time. When number-one runs out, use number-two etc. Each phone has a speed dial number matching a set that I have. Use only that number to contact me, and accept only incoming calls that show my name,’ he advised.
‘What about accidental wrong numbers?’
‘Unlikely. If that happens, call me immediately and say, credit expired. Then dispose of that phone and ring me on the next one. Get the idea?’
‘You’re loving this, aren’t you,’ I grinned at him.
‘The crime world is about to change with this technology.’
‘We could call them burners.’ Referring to fact that he’d just thrown a used one into the stove to completely dispose of it.
‘We could, but I doubt that it would catch on,’ he dismissed my idea.