A STUDY IN CERISE (2/7)

Ursula and Christina had a younger brother. He was called Charles and he had recently been reading the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, not so much because he liked it as because he had mislaid the charger to his e-reader, and the battery indicator was now down to one bar. There were a few ‘real’ books in the house, but they had been randomly and miscellaneously acquired and were uninteresting. There was How to Cheat at Gardening by some crumpled-looking woman in a cardigan and a floaty skirt in deckchair. There was Pilgrim’s Progress sandwiched between water-stained blue cardboard covers. This Charles finds incomprehensible. There was The Forsyte Saga in a hundred and two (well, perhaps not quite that many) paperback volumes, black. It had very small print, on paper so thin as to be almost transparent – about Victorians or some such. And there was A Study in Scarlet. The book was fairly short and Charles read it from end to end, but he didn’t enjoy this one either. He disliked pompous old Watson and that pointy-nosed, pipe-smoking smartarse Holmes. He did not enjoy the wordiness or the great long diversion to Salt Lake City in the United States, where people called Mormons were doing good things and then, incomprehensibly, bad things in connection with one or other of the characters who might or might not be the murderer that Holmes has, in his smartarse way, known about all along. Charles couldn’t remember which character, or why, and, after wading through so many tedious chapters-worth of Salt Lake City Mormons he no longer cared.

However, the story had influenced him. He had begun to picture himself as a detective in the making. Charles imagined real detectives to be like the detectives on TV, in those series commonly described as ‘gritty’; middle-aged men who lived on take-away food, drank cheap whiskey, fell asleep in their cars and would lean forward to shout in their suspects faces whilst carrying out interrogations. He was not interested in being like them. Neither was he interested in being like Sherlock Holmes, whom he detested. He had invented a new kind of detective. The kind that was really Charles, but cleverer, and unsuspected by all.

Charles in his detective persona had taken to following people about, flattening himself against the wall, round corners so as to overhear their conversations, and transporting small items of ‘evidence’ to the safety of his bedroom. Currently, his ‘evidence drawer’ – actually the drawer of his bedside cabinet – contained a rusty corkscrew with a knotted-pine handle. He had filched his sister Christina’s diary from under her pillow and from Ursula’s dressing table drawer her passport, which for some reason she had left out.

Charles glanced briefly at the photo in the back of Ursula’s passport, which made her look even plainer than she did in real life. Charles was a trifle muddled at this stage of his existence and had overlooked the fact that removing and hiding other people’s possessions was theft, technically. Initially he was not much tempted to read Christina’s diary. Having been only too closely associated with her for the past eleven years he suspected that whatever she had scribbled in this twinkly Day-Glo orange book of hers would be rubbish; but he was bored so he opened it anyway.

Christina’s spelling was even more atrocious than he had expected, but what she wrote was interesting:

‘ Patrick doesn’t luv me, of corse, but I don’t mind about that. He is of course a famus film actor. All the girls fancy the pants off him. Who culd guess from his burly good luks the actual situashun? That Brazilian weirdo Jorge lurking around him all the time. What a peece of luck it was that I twigged their little secret!!! Now he knows he has to marry me now or I’ll tweet it, I’ll bleat it, I’ll – what else has got EE in it? Dunno. Ideal husband, and it’s not as if he’s gonna get jealous and cramp my style, luv-wise.’

Charles flicked forward a few pages.

‘Better still, Paddy Boy is rich. Or at least he will be when he gets to 25 an that’s only 2 years away. Some sort of trust thing, wch he was stupidly showing off about when we first met. I don’t understand and don’t care about, except he – we – I – am gonna spend, spend, spend, spend, spend.’

Charles was shocked, in spite of himself. He knew Christina was greedy, but marrying someone just for their money? Even knowing they didn’t love you?

What exactly did she mean about this weird Jorge? Why should being friends with weird Jorge mean that Patrick had to marry Christina? ‘Why would his lady fans mind? And what did Christina mean by ‘their little secret’ and ‘the actual situashun’? I’m missing something here, he thought. All the same, I’ve learned a quite a bit.

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