CHAPTER TEN

 

The past two weeks had been more oppressive to Kelly than any he could remember, and for no small reason he was amazed that he had actually lived through them and not followed Paloma's example by doing away with himself in the meantime. To begin with, there had been the letter from Trevor Jenkinson on August 26th concerning Paloma Searle's suicide. Then the humiliating experiences of the 28th, when he had actually thrown-up his dinner outside the restaurant and been obliged to take a taxi home. Following which, his hopes of a rendezvous with Sharon Taylor outside Kenwood House at 3.00pm the following Sunday had been completely dashed on the rocks of the latter's enigmatic absence. Fortunately, he had recovered sufficiently from the previous Friday's ordeal to be able to keep his appointment. But Sharon had not turned up at the appointed hour. She hadn't even turned up two hours after it, by which time Kelly was in the blackest of moods, having sat and wandered around outside Kenwood House for approximately three hours to absolutely no avail! Could it be that his petitionary letter, hurriedly scribbled-out while travelling back from Paris on the afternoon of August 26th, hadn't reached her in time? He searched his memory to ascertain whether he had put a first- or a second-class stamp on the envelope, which he had posted as soon as he got back to London later that day. He felt certain he had used a first-class one, since he knew there was little time to spare and was in the habit of using such stamps anyway. Surely, then, it would have got to her by the 29th at the latest? And if she had meant what she'd said in her letter about not wishing to see him so long as he continued to befriend Paloma, surely the news of that woman's death would have prompted her to change her mind about him or, at the very least, grant him the single rendezvous he had so earnestly requested? After all, she was under no obligation to see him on a regular basis. And even if she thought he had been lying about Paloma's suicide, he would be able to prove the authenticity of his statement by showing her Trevor Jenkinson's letter or, better still, giving her Douglas Searle's telephone number, so that she could personally verify the fact. But she hadn't even written to say she couldn't come!

Bitterly disappointed, and thoroughly humiliated by her failure to turn up, Kelly had decided to visit her in person that very same day and force her to listen to him. Perhaps his letter hadn't reached her, after all? The thought that it might have been delayed in the post or even gone astray sufficed to give a fresh boost to his intentions, and so, shortly before 6.00pm, he was ringing the bell to her Highgate flat. In vain, however. He rang again, this time more persistently, but still no answer. He shouted her name through the letter box. No good. The silence prevailed. He was almost mad with anger and frustration. Turning on his heels, he sped down the three flights of creaking stairs like a man fleeing some murderous pursuer, his mind obsessed by one thought: Stephen Jacobs! She must be at Stephen's place! Naturally, he had no concrete evidence to prove she was in fact having an affair behind his back. Even so, the chain of events leading to her break with him, just over six weeks previously, clearly pointed in that direction. And if his hunch was correct, he would have it out with the bastard the moment he arrived at his address. He would see for himself exactly what the situation was and take it from there.

As soon as he was within striking distance of the high street, he hailed a taxi and gave the cabby Jacobs' Finchley address. But no sooner had he got to the latter's front door and rung its bell a couple of times than he was beset by the fear that Stephen might also be out - a fear which turned out to be fully justified as, several futile ringings later, he turned away from the bright yellow door and slowly walked away from the building, his head bowed under pressure of the bitter disappointment which had once more descended upon him, like some famished vulture, and ravaged his hopes. Having optimistically dismissed the taxi on arriving at his ex-friend's address, he was obliged to walk to the nearest high street and hail another, this time with the express objective of returning home. Crushed and defeated, he arrived back at his flat in a condition of nervous prostration and went straight to bed.

During the next few days the disappointments of that last Sunday in August weighed so heavily upon him that they prevented him from continuing with his work. He stayed late in bed, only getting up to eat and fetch provisions from the local shops. He had no desire to write to Sharon again, to arrange another meeting which he felt sure she was bound to snub. His feelings were so low that he could scarcely even read, let alone write. But as the hours of inactivity became increasingly difficult, making him fear for his sanity, he managed to persevere with Salvador Dali's Hidden Faces - a novel which strangely suited his melancholy predicament in its sympathetic treatment of the unrequited love of the Comte de Grandsailles for the beautiful Solange de Cleda.

By the beginning of the second week in September, however, he had sufficiently recovered from his depression to be able to recommence work and, starting with a few maxims of the sort which spring rather more from imagination than experience, he gradually worked-up an appetite for his philosophical notes again - a number of which he hoped to develop into short essays. In addition to the notes on Nietzsche compiled during his weeks in Paris, he had begun a series on Spengler and Koestler, the latter's 'holonic' and 'triadic' theories being chiefly of interest to him at present. Indeed, had not the three literary works he took to Paris testified to a certain tripartite inclination which had subconsciously manifested itself within his mind in response to Koestler's influence? Even Aldous Huxley had advocated, in The Human Situation, a tripartite view of people as developed by W.H. Sheldon, the American psychologist, which categorized them as either endomorphic (fat), mesomorphic (medium-built), or ectomorphic (thin) - three alternative physiological constitutions which he had correlated with equivalent psychological predilections at the expense of the purely psychological isolation of mind from body generally advocated by early-twentieth-century psychologists.

Clearly, in Huxley's view, the mind couldn't be separated from the body and treated as a kind of 'thing-in-itself', completely independent of the nature of the body to which it was linked. There were physiological influences to bear in mind, and these influences also had 'minds' of their own, so to speak. They weren't wholly dependent on the function of the brain but, to paraphrase Koestler, functioned as subautonomous wholes in an 'holarchic', or open-ended structure which endowed each member with a life of its own, a theory to some extent resembling the one put forward by the sixteenth-century alchemist Paracelsus, who attempted to extract curative juices from different parts of the body through an appropriate application of his special powders, called 'placets', to the 'lives' within a life.

Be that as it may, let us now proceed to the evening of September 10th, a day which had provided James Kelly with his most productive results since returning from Paris. It has just gone 8.00pm and he is seated in his study, flicking through the pages of Stendhal's De l'Amour for further information on the 'crystallization', or fifth stage of love, to which he has recently succumbed. He is thinking how beautiful Sharon was, how perfect her shapely limbs and long wavy hair, how harmonious her gestures, how pregnant with meaning her words! He is full of admiration for her, this female with whom he is proud to have fallen in love. Yet his admiration is clouded by the sadness of unrequited love, by the frustrations into which her absence has indomitably plunged him. He feels remorse for the way he behaved towards her on a number of occasions, when he hadn't shown her as much affection as he now feels he really ought to have, and this remorse is tempered by the recollection of his former relationship with Paloma Searle, by the double-dealing into which unmerciful fate had inexorably led him. But there was no longer a Mrs Searle to corruptly seduce him. He had made that fact perfectly clear to Sharon in his letter. Why, then, hadn't she responded? Surely she knew he was genuinely in love with her, that he hadn't been bluffing? Yes, she ought to know that fact by now! So why, then, hadn't she contacted him?

He got up from his favourite armchair and returned De l'Amour to its customary shelf on the bookcase. Then he went over to his writing desk where there were still some twelve letters in the tray - the backlog from his stay in Paris - waiting to be answered. He had no desire to reply to any of them that evening, since his eyes were smarting from the exigencies of his literary fate. It was evident that further attention to print or words wouldn't make them smart any less!

Gathering his writing materials together, he opened the bottom right-hand drawer of his desk when, suddenly, his attention was arrested by the spectacle of Paloma's handwriting on the front of an envelope resting on top of a small pile of letters held together by a broad elastic band. He realized, with a certain dismay, that he still hadn't destroyed her letters to him, contrary to his intentions on the way back from Paris. His vanity had got the better of him at the last moment and, instead of tearing them up and consigning them to the wastepaper bin, he had simply locked them away in his desk. Now the handwriting on the top envelope imposed a connotation of suicide upon his mind as he stared down at it, as though entranced. He picked up the pile of letters and immediately noticed something white at the bottom of the drawer - the G-string which Paloma had allowed him to keep as a memento of their first night together!

Placing the letters on top of his desk, he picked up the G-string and automatically put it to his nose. But he was unable to detect any traces of her scent on it. In fact, it seemed to smell rather more of elastic bands and paper than of anything else. Then, as he returned it to its current abode, he recalled that she had made temporary use of it on the afternoon Sharon had paid them an unexpected visit, only to return it to him before leaving. How she had managed to find it so quickly after having been pushed, nude and trembling, into the study, he couldn't quite understand. But he was thankful she had at least been wearing something when Sharon barged into the room to verify her suspicions that someone was in fact hiding there. And how Paloma had scolded him afterwards! Scolded him for not having told her that he already had a girlfriend! He had never witnessed such a scene of jealousy before. Yet when Paloma broke down sobbing on his shoulder, it was as much as he could do to prevent himself from following suit. Was she going to desert him, too? No, anything but! Being madly in love with him, she was simply going to intensify their relationship to a point which made it imperative for him to flee across the channel in search of refuge. It was as though she sensed it would be necessary to do this to win his love from Sharon.

Yes, she had learnt quite a lot about his true feelings for the actress that day, more than he ought, perhaps, to have told her. He realized, now, that events might not have taken such a drastic turn, had he lied to her about his true feelings for Sharon instead. In view of the extent of his love for her, however, honesty had got the better of him, and he gave-in to Paloma's probing interrogation like a helpless child before an implacable parent. He told her everything she wanted to know: where he had first met Sharon, how long they had been going out together, what she was like as a person, what she did for a living - a whole range of disclosures about which he now realized he ought to have kept silent. But the difficult situation in which he had found himself, that afternoon, made him feel sorry for Paloma, and as though to apologize for the inconvenience and pain which Sharon's unexpected intrusion had clearly caused her, he complied with her questions, providing answers which were subsequently to lead to her suicide.

Oh, if only he could have foreseen the terrible consequences of his honesty that day! If only he could have detected in Paloma's futile struggle to wrench his love away from Sharon the germs of a future tragedy! But his obsession with the actress had prevented him from seeing anything but the need to get back on amorous terms with her, to regain her companionship, and somehow get away from Douglas Searle's habitually adulterous wife. To do this he had gone abroad, not anticipating that his absence from London would lead Paloma to the false conclusion that, contrary to her expectations, he had eloped with Sharon and left her severely in the lurch. The proof of this terribly false conclusion was contained inside the top envelope of the six letters which lay stacked together on his desk - a letter which made it sufficiently clear that, under the circumstances of his betrayal, she had no further desire to live. And from that moment death had followed as inexorably as night the day! Now he would never hear from her again, and, in all probability, he would never hear from Douglas Searle again, either. For that man somehow knew of his wife's feelings towards him. He knew only too well that Kelly's inability to satisfy his wife's demands and acknowledge her last letters had led to her suicide, and there could be no doubt that his attitude towards him on the morning of the cremation had been decidedly cool - so cool, in fact, as to preclude anything but the most rudimentary civilities from taking place between them.

Yes, James Kelly would certainly have to resign himself to living without Mr Searle's hospitality in future. And as for Jenkinson, Hammer, Brady, etc., it seemed doubtful that he would ever see any of them again, either. For he hadn't seen them since August 28th, the day of Paloma's cremation, and, in view of the unsavoury fact that guilt had conspired to upset his stomach and compelled him to take his leave of them all in such an abruptly undignified manner, he didn't particularly relish the prospect of seeing any of them again, Jenkinson not excepted. There was accordingly little likelihood that his past friendships would be resurrected, not even the one with Stephen Jacobs, which had died for quite different reasons. In fact, he had neither seen nor heard anything of Jacobs since that Monday in July, when the latter had paid him a brief and rather disquieting visit ostensibly to return the volume of Huxley lectures borrowed the previous month. On that ill-fated day the suspicions which Kelly entertained concerning his friend's relationship with Sharon had prevented anything like a spontaneous or friendly conversation from taking place, and Stephen, having quickly sized-up the situation and done his best to brave it out as best he could, had quietly withdrawn in an aura of guilt. And so, without his past friends and girlfriends to visit or be visited by, life was becoming a rather solitary affair for the writer of philosophical notes!

Having locked Paloma's letters and G-string away in the bottom right-hand draw of his desk again, he ambled across to his bedroom on the opposite side of the corridor. It was barely 9.00pm, and thus much too early for bed. What was he to do with himself? He thought it might be expedient to play a few rock albums, considering he hadn't listened to music so much recently and had no desire to put additional strain on his eyes by watching TV. But, before he could choose an album, the sound of his doorbell halted him in his tracks, so to speak. Who could that be, he wondered? He hadn't been expecting anyone. A sudden feeling of dread pervaded his soul at the thought that it might be Stephen Jacobs. He hardly dared move. But the doorbell rang a second and lengthier time, and he didn't have the stomach to ignore it.

When he opened the door, however, he had the shock of his life. "Sharon!" he cried, as his startled eyes beheld the very same woman he had been thinking of earlier. "What b-brings you here?" he stammered, gesturing her into his flat.

"Your letter, James."

"My l-letter?" he repeated, scarcely able to believe his ears, never mind eyes.

"I understand Paloma Searle died," Sharon went on.

"But didn't I w-write to you about that f-fact over two weeks ago?" stammered Kelly in bewilderment.

Sharon Taylor was unable to prevent herself blushing. "I'm afraid I only got round to reading your letter yesterday, as soon as I'd returned from holiday," she confessed. "You see ..."

"Holiday?" interrupted Kelly on a wave of surprise.

"Yes, I spent a couple of weeks down in Devon for a change," Sharon revealed.

"Oh, I see!" sighed Kelly, who had literally slumped into the sitting-room's one remaining armchair, his legs having virtually lost their ability to support him any longer. "I had imagined ... But he couldn't force the rest of what he wanted to say out of his mouth, so resigned himself to asking her whether she had enjoyed herself.

"Yes, most of the time," replied Sharon smilingly, "although my holiday companion was sometimes more of a hindrance than a help to me. Fortunately, the weather was excellent and the beach we frequented just right for sunbathing but ... well, I would doubtless have enjoyed it more had I been with you."

"I take it you went with Stephen Jacobs," said Kelly bluntly.

Sharon reluctantly nodded her head and momentarily lowered her eyes under pressure of the shame which this embarrassing admission caused her. "I couldn't really refuse him," she sighed, after a few seconds' silence had supervened between them. "He was so domineering."

"Actually, I had figured Stephen was involved with you quite some time ago," revealed Kelly, his voice trembling with suppressed emotion. "However, I suppose I deserved what I got for having allowed myself to get caught-up with Paloma Searle for all the wrong reasons. I think I told you all about how that happened in my letter, didn't I?"

"Yes, more or less," admitted Sharon, blushing. "But I also deserved what I got for having allowed myself to get drawn into a relationship with Stephen."

"Oh?"

Sharon was blushing more forcibly than before and was evidently in some difficulty bringing her emotions under control. "He's a sadistic pervert!" she at length declared.

"Really?" gasped Kelly, who didn't quite know what to say. "How d'you mean?"

"It would take too long to explain and, besides, I don't think I'd want to go into all the sordid details," was all Sharon would say.

"You're not still seeing him, by any chance?"

"I haven't completely broken with him yet, though ... if you really meant what you said in your letter, then I'd be more than happy to carry on from where we left off, before anyone else came between us."

Kelly could hardly contain his delight, so excited had he become all of a sudden. "You mean it?" he exclaimed.

"Of course I do!" responded Sharon, clasping his outstretched hand in both of hers. "Why shouldn't I mean it?"

He had risen to his feet and drawn her closer to himself in a gesture of physical reconciliation. They stood, for a moment, staring into each other's eyes, their arms entwined. Then their lips met in one long passionate kiss which completely dissipated the remaining distrust and reserve between them. "I really can't believe my luck," he at length gasped, coming up for air. "I had completely given-up all hope of ever seeing you again."

"That was very silly of you, Jim," remarked Sharon teasingly. "After all, you do love me, don't you?"

"Passionately," he confessed, squeezing her more tightly against himself. "You're the only woman I have ever loved." Then, releasing her from his embrace, he stood back to admire her appearance. "Weren't you dressed like this the first day I set eyes on you?" he observed, recalling the all-white attire she had worn to the National Gallery that fateful day in June.

"I thought it would make a favourable impression on you," she smiled.

"Hmm, it does indeed," he admitted, "insofar as it induces me to believe that our relationship has started right back at the beginning again." He drew closer to her and put his arms round her waist. "But what you told me about Stephen doesn't make such a favourable impression, I'm afraid. In fact, it leads me to the conclusion that the only sensible thing for you to do now, to ensure he doesn't continue molesting you, is to move into my apartment until such time as the air clears a bit and he loses further interest in you. What do you say?"

"Do you really think you'll have room for me here?" asked Sharon doubtfully, casting her gaze around the tiny room which, though amply filled with books, furniture, and other cultural artefacts, was as tidy as any room she had ever beheld.

"Under the circumstances of my love for you, I'd have room for you anywhere, even in a place the size of a telephone booth."

"I hope you won't live to regret your words!" said Sharon smilingly. "But if that's what you really want, then I can only say yes."

Once more they met in a passionate embrace, as Kelly proceeded to smother her face with kisses. "There's nothing that would make me happier than to have you living here every day," he enthused and, getting down on his knees before her, he began to kiss her feet, which were bare except for a pair of lightweight shoes. Then, just as he was about to lift the hem of her tight-fitting miniskirt to kiss her on the thighs, the sound of the doorbell intervened, causing him to start back in surprise. "Now who-on-earth can that be?" he irritably exclaimed, scrambling to his feet again.

"I hope it isn't Stephen," she groaned, as he went to open the door.

"If it is him, he'll get what's bloody-well coming to him!" Kelly shouted back to her from the hallway. There was a pause while he turned the lock, then an exclamation of unequivocal surprise as he recognized the caller and involuntarily stood back, as though in dread.

The tall figure of Douglas Searle, dressed in a black suit and matching tie, lost no time in availing himself of Kelly's impulsive and quite unexpected hospitality, nor in buffeting him along the hallway to the sitting-room-cum-study where, at sight of Sharon, he halted and smiled. "I take it I have the pleasure of meeting Miss Sharon Taylor, the actress," he observed.

Sharon nodded and cautiously smiled back at him, though neither of them approached the other close enough to shake hands.

"Our mutual friend, Stephen Jacobs, told me you would probably be here this evening," Mr Searle remarked, principally to Sharon. Then turning fully to face Kelly, who now stood with his back to the sitting-room's door, he added: "Paloma told me quite a lot about your relationship with this young woman, who is really every bit as beautiful as I'd been lead to believe. However, since my wife's untimely demise I've been waiting for an opportunity to level the score, as it were, and thanks to the co-operation of our mutual friend, whom I learnt about through Paloma and whose invaluable information has enabled me to catch you together at such a convenient time, that opportunity has now arrived. Whereupon he drew a small revolver from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and, pointing it directly at Kelly, continued: "I sincerely regret having to do this, James, but since you were largely responsible for destroying my wife and club through your clumsy and deceitful actions, I'm left with no real alternative."

"But, Mr Searle, I had no idea ..." Kelly was prevented from finishing his apologetic excuse by the impact of a bullet in the chest, which caused him to slump to the floor.

"James!" screamed Sharon as the crippling effect of the bullet wound registered in her mind. But before she could scream again or even take a step towards him, a second bullet from Searle's revolver had struck his chest with mortal effect.

"Oh, my God!" she groaned and, overcome by shock, collapsed to the floor, where she lay in an hysterical heap until a third bullet from Searle's gun cut short her mental agony by piercing her heart.

Satisfied that both of them were dead, Douglas Searle returned the revolver to his jacket pocket and began to ransack the room with intent to finding his late-wife's letters. He had unlocked virtually every drawer by the time he got to the one containing them. Taking them out of their envelopes, he quickly read each one through from first to last before setting fire to them with the aid of a cigarette lighter. The envelopes were also destroyed in such fashion. Then noticing the white G-string in the same drawer, and recognizing it as the one Paloma had worn to the fancy-dress ball, he set fire to it in turn and contemptuously dropped it into the metallic wastepaper bin, watching intently until the flames had completely engulfed and consumed its smouldering remains - much the way that his wife's corpse had been engulfed and consumed by raging fire at the crematorium. Finally, satisfied that no further evidence of the affair between his wife and James Kelly was still at large, he took out the gun again and, pressing its barrel against the roof of his mouth, pulled the trigger to devastating effect.

 

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