There is nothing better on a cold winter afternoon than cozying up with a great book and a hot cup of tea. So Sunday afternoons throughout January and February we are excerpts from some of our favorite novels from some of our favorite authors and matching them with wonderful tea. Today we have Cathy Ace joining us with an excerpt from The Corpse with the Silver Tongue.
I have selected Bates' Brambleberry Black Tea to go with the Corpse with the Silver Tongue. Cathy is Welsh and lives in Canada, so this might be a case of an American (me) lumping together anything that is remotely close to being British together, but this just has the right feel for the book to me. And it's delicious.
The Corpse with the Silver Tongue
by Cathy Ace
The chatter among the dinner guests was bubbling along nicely,
when Alistair Townsend suddenly clutched at his chest, made gurgling
sounds and slumped into his bowl of escargots. Reactions around the
table varied: his wife told him to stop messing about, one of his guests
looked surprised, one a little concerned and a couple were quite cross. All
of which led me to suspect that “How to react when one’s host drops dead
at the dinner table” is not tackled in any modern etiquette books.
I was the only one who leapt up, rushed to Alistair’s side, and shouted
that someone should call an ambulance. Silly of me, really. Any fool could
have seen that he was dead before his face hit the garlic butter. I felt I had
to do something, because everyone else was glued to their seats, agreeing
with Tamsin Townsend that her husband was putting on some sort of
attention-seeking show for us all.
Gerard Fontainbleu was the first to pick up on my concerns, and he
moved to the telephone as quickly as his bowed octogenarian legs would
carry him. He barked instructions into the instrument “requesting” that
action be taken. The seriousness of the situation only gradually dawned
upon the rest of the group.
Admittedly, my first thought upon seeing Alistair’s rather alarming
face-plant into the snails was “heart attack.” Alistair was over sixty,
overweight and overindulgent. He smoked several fat cigars each day and
apparently thought that exercise consisted of meandering from one bar
on Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais to another. He was the personification
of “a heart attack waiting to happen.” Now, it seemed, the waiting
When Alistair’s ethereally blond, twenty-eight-year-old trophy wife,
Tamsin, finally realized that her husband wasn’t “messing about,” and was in
fact dead, she began to act very oddly. Trust me, I’m a criminology professor,
so I have a pretty good idea of what constitutes “odd” under these circumstances.
Everyone acts and reacts differently to a sudden death, of course, but
what she did took even me by surprise—which takes some doing. She rushed
from the table and returned moments later with a bunch of smoldering twigs
in her hand, which she proceeded to waggle around her late husband’s body.
To “ease the path for his departing soul,” she said. She chanted to some
ancient gods with guttural names as she brushed “evil spirits” toward the
open windows with the smoking twigs. See what I mean?
Understandably, my fellow guests removed themselves, rapidly, from
their seats and scuttled away from the table. Before dinner we’d all gathered
on the large balcony that led off the apartment to admire the view of
red-roofed Old Nice below us and the glittering Mediterranean beyond.
Now the balcony offered an attractive alternative to sitting in a room with
a corpse. Not a difficult choice, I suppose. Given that the only person I’d
known at the table before the party was now slumped dead in his chair, I
hesitated before making any suggestions about what we should do while
waiting for the sadly unnecessary attendance of the paramedics. But I know
from experience that at such a time someone has to take charge.
“Does anyone know if we’re supposed to call the police, too?” I thought
I’d better check. I know only too well what happens in the event of an unexpected
death in Britain, my old home, and in Canada, my new one. As a
visitor to Nice, I wasn’t sure if we needed to make an extra call, of if the
French police would automatically show up along with the ambulance.
“We will not require the police, Professor Morgan,” replied Madelaine
Schiafino in her delightfully formal English. I’d gathered from the introductions
over pre-dinner drinks that Madame Schiafino had been a lawyer
in Cannes for decades, and that one pronounced her name “Sha-feeno.”
Now over ninety, she was a frail, bent woman, but she managed to maintain
a dignified air, despite the unnatural darkness of her hair.
“Please, it’s Cait.” Away from my academic life at the University of
Vancouver, I don’t care much for “Professor.” It makes me feel like some
crusty old has-been who decorates her office walls with diplomas and
degrees. I’m not crusty; I don’t think that forty-eight is old, and I like to
think that my best is yet to come. However, I do have my degrees hanging on
my walls—in my defense, it’s the sort of thing that students expect.
“We will not require the police, Cait,” said Madelaine Schiafino, smiling
and nodding: her dark, intelligent eyes twinkled quite cheerfully, given the
“I ’ave tell them to send the police,” announced Gerard Fontainbleu
gravely as he joined us on the balcony. His weathered complexion and
gnarled hands bore testament to his almost seventy years of tending the gardens
that surrounded the Palais du Belle France, where we were all gathered.
Madelaine “tutted” and rolled her eyes, as Chuck Damcott snapped,
“Madelaine says we don’t need the police, Gerard!” He sounded cross,
impatient with the old gardener, unfairly, I thought. A tall, slim, sandyhaired
American in his late forties, Chuck Damcott had been living in
Nice for ten years. Our host had seated him next to me at dinner. After all,
why wouldn’t an American spy novelist, now living in France, and a Welsh
criminology professor, now living in Canada, get along? To be fair we hadn’t
had a bad evening, until Alistair had dropped dead, of course. Chuck had
been attempting to “entertain” me with stories about how the Palais du Belle
France had been Gestapo headquarters for the area during the Vichy years.
He’d apparently been delighted to be able to buy an apartment there, it being
so well known among World War Two espionage aficionados. Odd though
the topic had been, he’d been engaging and almost charming in his childlike
enthusiasm. His rather acid rebuff of the aged gardener was, therefore, all the
By way of a reply, Gerard Fontainbleu shrugged slowly. When he spoke,
it was disdainfully.
“Whatever Madame Schiafino might say, it is better to ’ave the police.
Otherwise they think we do something wrong. Monsieur Townsend, he is
English and he is rich. There will be an investigation.” Gerard spoke with all
the authority that his presence at the Palais allowed.
“If you think so, Gerard,” was Madelaine Schiafino’s polite yet curt reply.
All through drinks and dinner I had noticed the body language between
these two: they didn’t like each other, and they weren’t new to the emotion.
Doctor Benigno Brunetti was the next to offer an opinion. His rich,
Italian baritone made Chuck Damcott’s high register sound positively nasal.
“I, too, think it is better to call the police. Alistair’s death is a shock, but we
have our reputations to consider.”
Beni, as he’d jovially insisted we call him, was the head of the nearby
Cimiez Museum of Roman Antiquities. Somewhere in his mid-fifties, he
possessed perfect English, perfect white teeth, perfect olive skin, and probably,
knowing my luck, a perfect wife. He was obviously well educated as
well as charming, witty, and heart-achingly good-looking, with dark eyes
that bored into your very soul. Well, they bored into mine, anyway.
“But Beni,” cooed Madelaine, “it is clear that Monsieur Townsend has
suffered a heart attack. It was not unexpected. He was an unhealthy man.”
Madame Schiafino was echoing my own initial thoughts, but she was doing
so with all the coquettish charm that a woman in her nineties could muster.
Beni Brunetti smiled graciously: I suspected he must have grown accustomed
to women of all ages batting their eyelashes at him.
“What do you mean, Madelaine? Alistair was hale and hearty,” Chuck
Damcott whined, as though he had suffered a personal slight. “He loved
his life here in France and took an interest in everything around him. Why,
he initiated the whole idea of the swimming pool just so he and Tamsin
could exercise right here at the Palais without having to go to one of the
“Tsst! The swimming pool . . .” Madelaine hissed angrily at the American.
I’d caught something earlier on about a swimming pool that was about
to be dug into Gerard Fontainbleu’s beloved gardens, but the topic had
been abandoned at Tamsin Townsend’s request. She’d said that it was too
“divisive” for her birthday dinner. Frankly, I’d been surprised at the time that
she’d even known that the word existed. Alistair hadn’t dropped the subject
without making a final snide remark about “good things coming to those
who won’t wait.”
Typical of Alistair, of course. Selfish bugger. He always had to have
the last word. As I looked out again over the city beneath me and the sea
beyond, I wondered whether I was even sorry that he’d died. I know they
say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but I’d never had a good word to say
about Alistair when he’d been alive, so it would have been hypocritical of me
to start now that he was gone. It was best to say nothing.
You see, before I’d gone off to get my master’s degree in criminal
psychology, I’d worked at the London advertising agency that Alistair had
owned. He’d certainly earned his industry-wide reputation as a pompous
bombast who specialised in finding timid clients with huge budgets—
clients who could be talked into spending more than was really needed on a
campaign. Somehow, he’d also managed to coax great work out of several of
the most famous creative prima-donnas in the business, so his agency didn’t
just have huge billings, it also had an awe-inspiring array of creative awards
from around the world. I’d worked there for a few years, but, honestly, I’d
hated the man (no one says you actually have to like the person who pays
your salary, do they?) and I could quite happily have lived the rest of my life
without seeing his florid face ever again.
Which was why I’d been so dismayed when he’d unexpectedly accosted
me as I was relaxing outside a bar in Nice’s beautiful Cours Saleya earlier
that very day.
“Good heavens, it’s Cait. Cait Morgan!” He’d cried out so loudly that
everyone relaxing at the bar had turned to look at us. “What brings you
here? I expect you’re surprised to see me! What? What?”
Surprised? I was speechless. A condition which, for me, might last a
whole second. I’d closed my eyes, hoping I was imagining the whole thing.
But when I opened them again, he was still there. Beaming. Effervescing
with fake bonhomie.
“Hello, Alistair.” I sighed, resigned to his unwanted presence. “How are
you?” Like I cared.
“Top hole. Top hole.”
I’d forgotten he did that—talked like some Hollywood version of an
Olde English Squire.
“What brings you to our fair Cote d’Azur? Eh? Eh?” he quipped, with a
“I’ve been presenting a paper on the psychology of internet fraud to an
international symposium here. I’m a criminologist now.” I must have sounded
as though I was apologizing—which was annoying, because presenting a
paper at an international symposium is a Big Deal.
“How jolly nice. Jolly nice,” had been his irritatingly patronizing reply.
I’d felt my shoulders hunch with annoyance and I slurped at my rosé wine,
which no longer seemed refreshing but necessary.
“Will you be with us for long?” Alistair seemed to imply that my visit to
Nice was all about him. Again, typical.
“I leave on Tuesday,” I said before I could stop myself.
“Ah, so you’ll have the whole weekend with us . . . Marvellous!
Not if I can help it, I thought.
“Oh sweet, sweet Cait,” he cooed, as he insinuated his flabby body,
uninvited, into the chair next to mine. “You were always one of my most
valued employees, most valued,” he’d lied. “I was bereft when you departed
for pastures new—I could never imagine why . . . And then there was all that
terrible trouble you had in Cambridge . . . Oh dear me, yes, Cambridge . . .”
There it was! That was why he remembered me. He couldn’t remember a
thing about all the hours I’d put in for our clients, all the boring press stories
I’d written, all the successful campaigns I’d managed . . . all the money I’d
made for him. Oh no, if my face hadn’t been plastered on the front page
of every British tabloid, accused of “viciously slaying” my boyfriend, he’d
never have remembered me at all. Of course, I’d been completely cleared. I
was never even charged. But I wondered if he remembered that, or if he only
recalled the lurid mud-slinging that the journalists had seemed to think was
He rattled on. “You simply must come to my lovely wife’s birthday party
this evening. We’re at the Palais du Belle France in Cimiez. I’ll be serving my
very own escargots—something I’ve taken up since I moved here . . . Oh,
the things I’ve taught the locals up at my little snail farm in the mountains,
you wouldn’t believe it . . .” I could imagine how delighted the French must
have been to be told by an Englishman how to raise snails. “You’ll meet
some dear friends of mine, Cait! Six for six-thirty. Don’t be late! No, no,
don’t be late! Must be off—got a birthday cake to collect—very special—
oh yes, very special!” Then he pushed himself out of his seat and was gone,
as unexpectedly as he’d arrived.
As he was blathering on I’d been trying to think up any excuse to not go.
A previous engagement? Bubonic plague? Instead, I’d folded like a cheap
tent and accepted his invitation. I hit the shower at my hotel and caught
a cab. That’s how I came to be on the spot when Alistair Townsend died.
Given how much I’d disliked him in life, and how he’d bullied me into being
there, I’ll call it ironic, because I don’t believe in Fate.
“The ambulance is here!” wailed the freshly minted widow Tamsin, as
though she wasn’t the one who should tell them what had happened to her
Before any of us could respond to her pathetic call, we were all taken
aback by the sudden collapse of Madame Schiafino. Luckily she was standing
near Beni Brunetti as she let out a little cry of surprise and grabbed at her
left arm. She looked ashen as he helped her to a seat.
“Tell them to come here,” called Beni authoritatively, “Madelaine needs
Of course, this time everyone was immediately concerned, and that
concern grew as Gerard Fontainbleu suddenly sat down hard and lost his
“I, also, am not very well,” the old man stated somewhat feebly.
I was wondering who’d be next to drop, and my immediate thought was
“poison.” I did a quick mental review of what we’d consumed that evening.
We’d all drunk champagne poured from the same bottles, we’d taken slices
of sausage or nibbled olives from the same plates, we’d helped ourselves from
one huge bowl of salad and one huge platter of Alistair’s escargots, and we’d
ripped bread from the same loaves. If some sort of poison had already attacked
three of our party, surely we would all be affected, sooner or later? I could feel
panic grow in the pit of my stomach—at least, I hoped that was what it was.
Clearly, Beni was working through the same mental processes as me,
and his expression showed concern. As one of the paramedics attended
to Madelaine, Beni’s commanding voice carried through the shimmering
“We must all be attended to, and the police must be alerted. I think we
have all been poisoned.” I hated to hear my own fears spoken aloud.
“Sure—poisoned,” scoffed Chuck, then he turned pale. A fearful look
crossed his face almost immediately. “You know, I don’t feel too good
myself,” he admitted.
By the time the police arrived Madelaine was being given oxygen, Gerard
was having his blood pressure taken, Chuck was squealing with terror and
trying to measure his own pulse, and Beni was shouting loudly in Italian into
his mobile phone. I was beginning to wonder if I was just getting caught up
in some sort of mass hysteria, or if I was really experiencing palpitations.
To top it all, Tamsin was still waggling her smoking twigs about the
place and wailing something about the “Curse of the Celtic Collar,” which
she seemed to be convinced had befallen our group. She was also ranting
on that the “Celtic Collar” in question had been stolen. Not knowing
anything about the missing item, nor believing in curses, I decided it was
best to tune her out completely. I mean, her husband was dead and we’d
probably all been poisoned—where was the woman’s sense of priorities?
Luckily, one of the policemen spoke English: he immediately told
Tamsin to extinguish her sticks and he quietened Chuck with some
sharp words about “disturbing the peace.” He ensured that the paramedics
attended to us all before we were whisked away to the hospital for a
battery of tests that left me feeling like I’d had a run-in with a particularly
For hours I was told to restez-vous on an incredibly uncomfortable
hospital gurney, endured being poked with syringes, and had innumerable
little sticky patches attached to various parts of my anatomy, only to have
them unceremoniously ripped off again without their seeming to have
served any purpose.
I finally found myself being pushed by two giggling nurses into a
corridor, where I was then completely abandoned, still hooked up to a drip
that was feeding clear fluid into me and a monitor that had the most annoying
habit of buzzing every few seconds. To be honest, I felt fine. Well, okay,
I felt very annoyed and quite frustrated, but fine.
My annoyance must have subsided long enough for me to doze off for
a while, because I awoke from a dream that involved my battling against
giant wasps—some subliminal attempt to deal with the memories of lots of
needles? I was now in a semi-sitting position in a large, echoing, grey-tiled
room, with the policeman who had answered the call to the Townsends’
apartment. He was hovering at my side, peering at me intently, with another
officer who was his superior—judging by his manner and the fact that he
was in “plainclothes.”
The superior officer spoke in French, and the younger man translated
into English, something for which I was grateful, because my French is
somewhat limited. At any rate, I certainly didn’t have the mental capacity,
given my circumstances, to grasp what he was saying. I was informed that
my various tests had been assessed and that, while I would have to spend the
rest of the night in the hospital “under observation,” I didn’t show any signs
of my life being in immediate danger.
So, the good news came first. Then came the inevitable bad news.
While not being in a position to specify, the “boss-officer” made it clear
that we had all been exposed to the same toxin at the party, and that this
toxin had, in all likelihood, killed our host. I could have told them that!
He added gravely that, until more was known about the exact cause of
Alistair’s demise, I wasn’t to leave Nice, nor would any other members of
our group be allowed to do so, as we were all “persons of interest in a case of
an unexplained death.” I gave them my contact details and was “requested”
to attend the police station the next morning at 11:00 am for an interview.
As they left me there on my gurney, I thought to myself, What a great way
to start a long weekend in the south of France!
Mind you, if I’d known then just how much worse it was going to get, I
might have seen being poisoned and becoming a murder suspect as high spots.
After a little nap, I was wide awake. You know, the sort of “wide
awake” that means you’re quite certain sleep is beyond your grasp. All I
could do was try to ignore the buzzing machine next to me, and try not
to worry about what poison I might have been served at dinner. Not easy.
My watch told me it was two o’clock in the morning. Nice is nine
hours ahead of Vancouver, so it was only five o’clock in the afternoon
there—a great time to get hold of people. My cell phone was in my purse,
which was jammed beneath my body, but there were signs all over the
walls making it clear that I shouldn’t use it, even if I could have managed
to get hold of it. Besides . . . who would I call? My mind leapt to Bud. He
would be the one to talk to at a time like this.
For a couple of years Bud Anderson had been the head of Vancouver’s
Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, or Mr. I-HIT, as he liked to call
himself. I’d been working with him over the past twelve months or so as a
“sometimes consultant.” Bud would call me if he thought I might be able to
help his team, and I’d profile a victim to help gain an understanding of their
life or life patterns. He’d recently taken on a Big New Job. He was setting
up a unit to work out the way that gangs and organized crime worked in
Vancouver, across Canada, and internationally. All very hush, hush.
I liked Bud and his patient, supportive wife Jan, but I hadn’t seen
much of them since he’d been promoted—or “given the Gangbusters
job,” as he put it. A dinner plan cancelled here, a coffee date postponed
there. I missed the way he seemed to understand me, and how he supported
my not always favorably viewed expertise. I also missed how
much Jan spoiled me when I was with them—almost as much as they
both spoiled their tubby black lab, Marty. I always got the “human
treats,” as she called them, lovely little nibbles made of chocolate and
As I squirmed to get more comfortable on the unyielding gurney, I
wished I could hear Bud’s calm, confident, commanding voice. He’d help
me gain some perspective. But calling him would have to wait.
Generally speaking, I’m a “rule observer”: the one and only time I ever
parked in a disabled parking spot, I got towed—typical for me. Both my
upbringing and my natural defense mechanisms have led me to try to not
break the rules, if at all possible.
So I was on my own. What to do until I was unhooked and released? I
resigned myself to reliving the events that had brought me to this situation.
Frankly, I shouldn’t have been anywhere near Nice, let alone rolled up
in a blanket having cheated death. My dear, but annoying, colleague Frank
“I’m not afraid of mountain biking down Blackcomb Mountain at the age
of sixty” McGregor, our Faculty’s specialist in internet crime, had fallen
off his stupid bike and broken his stupid collarbone and his even stupider
right leg. So I had been “volunteered” by my Head of Department to fly
to Nice to present daredevil Frank’s paper at the symposium. Of course,
at the time, I’d jumped at the chance of an all-expenses paid break in the
south of France. I mean—who wouldn’t?
“We’ll cover your classes, Cait, and you can represent Frank and the
Faculty. You’ll fly out tonight, and arrive in Nice on Thursday. Frank’s
paper is due for presentation just before lunch on Friday. The University
of Vancouver will be proud of you—I know you’ll do a good job. You only
have to formally present the paper and be prepared to answer some very
general questions about Frank’s methodology. You can read the briefing
papers on the airplane. You’ll have a marvellous time.”
Those had been the words from my boss that had sent me home on a
cloud of dreamy expectations to hurriedly pack and rush off to Vancouver
International Airport to undertake the twenty-hour journey. Two changes
of airplanes later, I finally emerged from Nice’s airport bleary-eyed, heavily
rumpled, and ready to savor all that the Cote d’Azur had to offer. After a
good nap and a bit of a wash and brush up, that is.
If Frank hadn’t gone mountain biking, and if I hadn’t been chosen to
replace him, I’d never have been sitting at that bar sipping a glass of wine in
the warmth of the May sunshine when Alistair walked by. I wouldn’t have
been poisoned, or have been there when Alistair died. Clearly, it was all
Frank’s fault. At last—I had someone to blame!
Oh dear . . . poor Frank. He was probably feeling even more uncomfortable
than I was at that moment: it can’t be easy being almost totally
immobile down one whole side of your body. For six to eight weeks, they’d
said. They also say it does one good to think of someone who’s worse off
than oneself. Even though I’d been poisoned and was now a suspect in an
unexplained death, Frank certainly fit the bill of someone worse off than
me. As was Alistair. After all, whatever I might have thought of him—and
none of those thoughts were good—he was dead. And that’s about as bad
as it gets.
I was back to Alistair again.
Alistair Townsend: I had hated him in life, and I suspected I was going
to hate him even more in death. He’d screwed up a part of my life . . . well,
okay, just a few years of it, while I’d worked for him. The advertising agency
world has always been a pretty cut-throat business, but Alistair was much
more of an “I’ll find someone else to stab you in the back” type of operator.
People had their careers ruined, they’d lost jobs and seen their marriages
dissolve into chaos, and some had lost their homes and businesses . . . all
because Alistair wanted to have everything work out to his advantage, and
because he had knowledge about people that they didn’t want him to share,
so they did his dirty work for him. I’d been told at the time, by someone
who had firsthand knowledge of such things, that more than one Alcoholics
Anonymous group in London’s Soho, the heart of ad-agency-land, had
members courtesy of Alistair’s machinations. And I, along with others I’d
known back in those distant days, suspected that he was linked to at least
two suicides—indirectly, of course.
Let’s be honest, the world was unquestionably better off without Alistair
Townsend. As I lay wriggling in my blanket I wondered if he’d “retired” from
the ad agency world but had maintained his interest in “secret brokering.”
That sort of habit is hard to break—and a skill set it must be difficult to put
aside. Boy, thinking of it that way made Alistair sound like a character from
one of Chuck Damcott’s secret agent books. I wondered if that was why
they’d become friends. Maybe Chuck was using Alistair as a model for a
forthcoming tome. Maybe the world wasn’t rid of the man after all—maybe
he would be immortalized in print. I shuddered at the thought.
The policeman hadn’t been very illuminating when he told me we’d all
been affected by the same toxin. Had we all been victims of an intentional
poisoner, or of an accidental one? Had we breathed in the toxin? Eaten it?
Drunk it? Touched it? There’d been ample opportunity for all those alternatives.
And he’d said nothing. Maybe they didn’t know. Yet.
I began to seriously consider whether Alistair might have continued in
his old ways, even while living his new life in France. After all, someone had
poisoned him . . . me . . . all of us . . . Or maybe I was jumping the gun and
we were all exposed to the same toxin by accident.
Some psychologists are very science oriented, while others stay mainly
out of the lab and concentrate on the observations they can make, and the
lessons they can learn, in the real world. I’ve never liked dissection or mathematics
very much, so I guess I’m an example of the type of psychologist
who believes that understanding human beings is as much of an art as it is
a science. Why people do what they do is what fascinates and drives me.
And why they might have become a victim has turned out to be my main
area of focus.
While I’m no scientist, I know that tests take time: a lot longer than the
thirty seconds they take on all those tv shows. Sometimes they take days.
Given the number of times they’d stuck a needle into me and drawn blood,
I was pretty sure that the hospital’s pathologists would have their work cut
out for quite some time before they knew exactly what had happened to
me, or the rest of group.
Or maybe they did know already, and the policeman was holding back the
information. If so, why would he do that? To keep us all off guard, I suspect.
My thoughts went back to Bud Anderson in Vancouver. I had a feeling
that by the time I got out of the hospital Bud would be fast asleep and
snuggled up to Jan and Marty (yes, they even have a set of steps to allow
him to waddle up onto the bed). I’d have to wait, and then wait some more,
until I could talk to anyone I knew or trusted. Bugger!
In the meantime, there was no reason why I couldn’t still treat this as
though it were a “proper” case. The way that I’d done for Bud in the past,
and the way that I teach my students to do it.
The victim (let’s call him that for now), Alistair Townsend: rich, relatively
unhealthy, retired (from work at least), and living in the lap of luxury
on the Cote d’Azur. If what I knew about him from his past was anything to
go by, then he’d have accumulated a few enemies here, in his new life. Those
people who worked at his snail farm, for a start: imagine showing up and
telling the French how to farm snails! Then there was the swimming pool
issue: I’d have to find out more about that. If Alistair had been the moving
force behind digging up the gardens at the Palais to install a swimming
pool, it might not just be the oldtimers Madelaine and Gerard who were
against it; there could be dozens of other residents who didn’t like the idea.
Promising. And what on earth was his wife bleating on about when she said
that a Celtic collar had been stolen? No one had mentioned such a thing at
dinner, at least, not within my hearing. Or had they?
Maybe I should start by trying to work my way back through everything
that had happened that evening, in detail. Maybe I’d missed some clues.
One of the great things about having what most people call a photographic
memory is that I can sit quietly and recall certain things, or events,
in detail. Now, being a psychologist I know that there’s no such thing as a
photographic memory, and that even the proper term, “eidetic memory,”
has not been “proven” to the satisfaction of many scientists. To be honest,
I certainly cannot explain what I can do, nor, frankly, do I want to. I mean,
can you imagine being studied and tested for years and years like a rat in a
laboratory? Terrible. And that’s what they do if you claim to have a special
memory. Me? I use what I can do, but certainly don’t advertise the fact that
I can do it, nor do I mention it at all if I can avoid it.
I’ve always been able to recall things in an unusual way. As a child I
thought that everyone could remember things the way I did. I used to get
quite cross in school when a teacher would ask me to explain why I was
contradicting something they said or did. I quickly found out that you get
a detention for answers like “Because you said something/did something
different two weeks ago.” It can certainly be a curse (everyone’s seen things
in life they wish they could forget), but it can be useful. If used with care.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, but I’ve learned, to my cost, that my
ability is far from perfect. If I haven’t seen or heard something, of course I
can’t recall it; and those things I have heard and seen sometimes get a bit
jumbled up. The human mind cannot help but make associations and links
that might seem illogical, but which come from somewhere deep inside our
psyche. I have to be careful with the “knowledge” that I have, because it
might be something I have misremembered, or which I have imbued with
my own values or judgements. That’s why I’m fascinated by the reasons
humans do what they do. The human mind is a wonderful thing—imprecise,
complex, often inexplicable. I love the idea that a lifetime of studying
it will never allow me to know everything. Though the thought that I might
know nothing does alarm me!
One thing I have learned, however, is that focusing sooner rather
than later on recalling things I’ve experienced helps me recall them more
accurately. I decided to give it a go. I couldn’t sit totally upright, due to my
“attachments,” nor could I lay down properly, nor wiggle my ample rear
until it was comfy; I had little else to do but lay as I was. I screwed up my
eyes to the point where everything goes fuzzy and started to hum softly (I
don’t know why that helps, but it does). If anyone had seen me lying there
like that, they might have sought the attention of a doctor on my behalf, but
I was still all alone, and even the distant clattering of efficient activity had
fallen away. I could do my thing in private.
This time I would question everything. There might have been a look
that was significant, a conversation that dripped with new meaning. This
was my chance to ferret out possible clues to what had happened. I forced
myself to revisit that evening, and experience it as though it were happening
again . . . the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even my thoughts and
feelings at the time . . . I would go back . . .
This excerpt was provided by the publisher. The tea is all mine, mine, mine.
You can find other posts by Cathy Ace here.