Chapter no 1



People would whisper now and then about folks who hadn’t fared well at Balmoral. The long-ago Queen, for instance. Mad with grief, she’d locked herself inside Balmoral Castle and vowed never to come out. And the very proper former prime minister: he’d called the place “surreal” and “utterly freaky.”

Still, I don’t think I heard those stories until much later. Or maybe I heard them and they didn’t register. To me Balmoral was always simply Paradise. A cross between Disney World and some sacred Druid grove. I was always too busy fishing, shooting, running up and down “the hill” to notice anything off about the feng shui of the old castle.

What I’m trying to say is, I was happy there.

In fact, it’s possible that I was never happier than that one golden summer day at Balmoral: August 30, 1997.

We’d been at the castle for one week. The plan was to stay for another. Same as the previous year, same as the year before that. Balmoral was its own micro-season, a two-week interlude in the Scottish Highlands to mark the turn from high summer to early autumn.

Granny was there too. Naturally. She spent most of every summer at Balmoral. And Grandpa. And Willy. And Pa. The whole family, with the exception of Mummy, because Mummy was no longer part of the family. She’d either bolted or been thrown out, depending on whom you asked, though I never asked anyone. Either way, she was having her own holiday elsewhere. Greece, someone said. No, Sardinia, someone said. No, no, someone chimed in, your mother’s in Paris! Maybe it was Mummy herself who said that. When she phoned earlier that day for a chat? Alas, the memory lies, with a million others, on the other side of a high mental wall. Such a horrid, tantalizing feeling, to know they’re over there, just on the other side, mere inches away—but the wall is always too high, too thick. Unscalable.

Not unlike the turrets of Balmoral.

Wherever Mummy was, I understood that she was with her new friend. That was the word everyone used. Not boyfriend, not lover. Friend. Nice enough bloke,

I thought. Willy and I had just met him. Actually, we’d been with Mummy weeks earlier when she first met him, in St. Tropez. We were having a grand time, just the three of us, staying at some old gent’s villa. There was much laughter, horseplay, the norm whenever Mummy and Willy and I were together, though even more so on that holiday. Everything about that trip to St. Tropez was heaven. The weather was sublime, the food was tasty, Mummy was smiling.

Best of all, there were jet skis.

Whose were they? Don’t know. But I vividly remember Willy and me riding them out to the deepest part of the channel, circling while waiting for the big ferries to come. We used their massive wakes as ramps to get airborne. I’m not sure how we weren’t killed.

Was it after we got back from that jet-ski misadventure that Mummy’s friend first appeared? No, more likely it was just before. Hello there, you must be Harry. Raven hair, leathery tan, bone-white smile. How are you today? My name is blah blah. He chatted us up, chatted Mummy up. Specifically Mummy. Pointedly Mummy. His eyes plumping into red hearts.

He was cheeky, no doubt. But, again, nice enough. He gave Mummy a present. Diamond bracelet. She seemed to like it. She wore it a lot. Then he faded from my consciousness.

As long as Mummy’s happy, I told Willy, who said he felt the same.

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