Great excitement today chez Cochrane when Jimmy Anderson took his 400th wicket. (My apologies to those of you for whom cricket is a great mystery, and who can’t work out why people want to play a game over five days and still not be guaranteed a result.) And yes, Sergeant Anderson in ‘Best Corpse’ gets his name from Jimmy.
It’s seven years in June since I was first published. Hardly feels like seven weeks. Aftermath, in Speak Its Name, is currently out of print, but one day it will reappear again. In the meantime, writing life is just as busy, with Lessons for Idle Tongues coming out in just a few weeks. It’s on special offer pre-order at the moment!
The Stewarts’ home, London, 1910
“Thirteen for dinner. It’s desperately unlucky, Jonathan.” Mrs. Stewart pronounced the fact as though it were gospel truth that disaster must follow upon such a situation. “It can’t be countenanced.”
Jonty Stewart — expert on Shakespeare’s sonnets, distinguished fellow of St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, but apparently barely more than a seven-year-old boy as far as his mother was concerned — rolled his eyes. He was obviously already in trouble, given her use of the full version of his name.
“Thirteen’s certainly a cursed number,” Orlando Coppersmith agreed. As the most brilliant mathematician at the same august institution, he should have been in the best position to know, but he usually had no truck with associating luck — good or otherwise — with ordinal numbers.
Jonty rolled his eyes again. “You’ve changed your usual tune.”
Orlando drew himself up to his full, impressive height, his exceptionally handsome appearance complemented by the perfection of his dinner jacket. His abundant locks were, as usual, only just being kept under control. He’d always been a fine-looking creature, and at last he had begun to believe it, which added to the overall impression.
“If you’d let me finish,” he said, “I was about to say it was cursed in people’s minds, from full-blown triskaidekaphobia to simply not wanting to live in a house bearing the number.”
“I’d agree with that.” Mr. Stewart nodded enthusiastically. He was a splendidly handsome creature as well, even though his head bore barely a hair. Given the splendour of the costumes on show and the natural good looks of the four people wearing them, anybody peering through the window of the Stewarts’ drawing room might have labelled the tableau A typical representation of the cream of the new Georgian society, seen in its home.
But there was nothing typical about the Stewarts. Mr. Stewart was a lord but refused to use his title; Mrs. Stewart was the daughter of an earl but had been known — in her younger days — to lay out unwanted suitors with a right hander that wouldn’t have disgraced a prize fighter; and the youngest Stewart was not only a Cambridge fellow, but indulged in amateur sleuthing with his colleague.
And, of course, the least typical thing about them was that Jonty and Orlando were lovers, a situation of which the Stewarts were aware and seemed supremely unbothered.
It had become a matter of routine for Jonty and Orlando to spend part of the long vacation in the company of Jonty’s parents, usually en route to more exotic climes. This summer was no exception, the south of Italy being on the menu and a few days in London being a delightful hors d’oeuvre.
“I think it’s the superstition itself that brings bad luck, like it probably does on Friday the thirteenth,” Jonty said airily. “All those people looking over their shoulders, worrying about the slightest thing; it’s bound to make something daft happen, isn’t it? Maybe all the little mishaps which occur every day of the week get counted that particular Friday, in the same way they might be counted when someone’s walked under a ladder. And maybe exactly the same mishaps would be forgotten about if they happened on Tuesday the twenty-first, or after the person concerned had gone round the ladder in question.”
Mr. Stewart nodded. “Excellent point. Like so many things, it’s all in the mind. It must go back to the Last Supper, of course,” he continued.
At the theological reference, Jonty switched onto automatic mode, nodding and saying, “Oh, yes, I see,” and taking little notice. It tended to be the most effective strategy when being lectured. He’d had plenty of practice, during all those hours when Orlando was twittering on about vectors or random numbers or some such nonsense.
The Last Supper — yes, Jonty had always suspected there’d been more people milling about than reported in the gospels. And hadn’t Judas gone sneaking off at some point to leave just the twelve, which made the unlucky number aspect all a bit illogical? Whatever the reasoning behind it, the thing was just bloody stupid.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t you agree, Jonathan?’”
“Absolutely.” Jonty nodded enthusiastically. He hadn’t actually heard his mother’s question, but — statistically, as Orlando would appreciate — there was a ninety percent chance that it was safest just to agree with whatever she had said.
And finally, the inspiration for this story!