The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches, gave them a twist and curled them up at the ends. He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days. He looked in the mirror and checked that the moustaches were even. In doing so he noted that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever. At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright altertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.
He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years. In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been. Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information? He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him. Had they been in the background directing the operations against him? Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?
He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought. Time to dress for dinner. Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so. There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too, despite rationing still being in full force. Black still had a ‘home farm’ that supported his estate of course, but the Colonel had long suspected that there were other things in support of Black’s lifetyle, hidden in the background.
The Colonel completed his preparations. A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed. Now it was a positive itching of his subconcious. True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to his friend the Chief Constable. Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment. The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a pistol from the drawer of the desk. By rights it should have been his Service Revolver, but the Webley was too big and bulky – it would have complety ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious. Instead he slipped a slimmer Berreta automatic pistol into his jacket pocket.
His valet entered with an Inverness cape over one arm, anticpating that his Master was ready to leave. The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door. It would be some time before he returned home.
© David Jesson, 2019
Of course she’d often attended dinner parties alone, what with her husband’s schedule being so full, but it was unheard of for her to receive an invitation without him – except to a ladies luncheon, of course. Yet there it was on the mantel, a gilt-edged heavy card in over-fussy lettering, with her name – Eleanor Peacock – written in blue-black ink in a rather untidy masculine hand.
She’d discussed the propriety of it with her husband, but he’d poo-poo’d her concerns, stating categorically that she must attend “for that Black fellow had many useful contacts and Eleanor must ensure they remained well in with him”. It seems her husband’s business had suffered during the war years, and it had been made very plain to her that if she wished to maintain her preferred lifestyle, she was required to grease the social wheels of commerce.
Now Eleanor was a most accomplished hostess, but the type of people her husband expected her to entertain these days was causing tremendous distress. They really were not the right sort – at all. Apparently they had money and plenty of it, which appeared to be all her husband was bothered about. There’d been much made about how the war had changed men, but her husband hadn’t actually been to war. But these days, the old standards didn’t seem to matter to him. All he ever talked about was about business, deals being made, new contacts, making money. It was all so terribly vulgar. Eleanor sniffed and wiped away a tear with her embroidered hanky – Mummy and Daddy would be terribly disappointed had they still been alive.
Thank goodness for Bingham. With Mummy and Daddy gone, she’d insisted he take over the running of their household. Everything ran so smoothly now. He helped her organise regular little soirees with the right social set, and he offered his sympathies every time she was required to entertain those oiks. He’d even suggested she have a little nip before the guests arrived – as apparently that’s what Mummy used to do.
Now the dreaded evening had arrived and Eleanor was in her dressing room preparing her toilette. She’d decided on a rather discrete navy silk frock, the sweetheart neckline being just low enough to showcase her aquamarine necklace, whilst not being in any way risque. It had full length sleeves, and she’d instructed her maid to set out the mink wrap for these old houses had a tendency to be terribly cold and draughty, even in the summer months. With an application of dark pink lipstick, Eleanor’s toilette was complete and she indicated her readiness to be helped into her frock. Finally, a minute or two of fussing in front of the mirror over the correct placement of the comb adorned with a peacock feather – her trademark – and she was ready.
Dismissing the maid, Eleanor waited. Almost immediately, there was a quiet tap on the door and Bingham entered. Wordlessly, he removed the glass he’d placed on her dressing table earlier that evening and replaced it with a full one. Eleanor was now in the habit of taking a drink before going out, but this evening, she’d felt the need for a more than her usual little snifter to calm the nerves. It had to be vodka too, rather than her preferred sherry, for it would never do for the fumes to be on her lips, nor a peppermint in attempted disguise – her husband had taught her as much.
Enquiries had been made during the week as to the other invitees, and it seemed it was to be a fairly small party. She’d met them all before at one shindig or another, but didn’t number any of her preferred social circle among them. Eleanor feared it was going to be a decidedly long and dull evening – she could but hope that Mr Black had a good bar and even better wine cellar.
© Debra Carey, 2019