Flipping Rich Bastards
An Eleanor Albright Edwardian P. I. Mystery
Lady Eleanor Albright has left her, 'brothel-loving, girl-seducing, entitlement-inflated husband with whom she can't believe she ever had sex,’ and is—again—living with her Irish mother, Lady Adele Albright. With her daughter’s marital woes unacceptable, Lady Adele schemes to end Eleanor’s “problems” one of which is her daughter’s attachment to a man seven years her junior, a barrister, Lord Henry Faraday. To add insult to injury, Henry has included Eleanor, as an expert chemist (and purveyor of women’s creams), in the death of the sanctimonious Baron of Tweedmouth. To help her friend, the cherubic Baron’s son, Eleanor must defy family, society, even the man she loves. Louis may well have cracked under the pressure of his harsh, bullying father.
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Genre: Historical Romance / Mystery
A Pink Satin Romance
The baby doesn’t understand English and the Devil knows Latin.
—Monsignor Roland Knox
Lady Eleanor Albright shifted on the skinny cross-end of a polished shooting stick that was folded open. A beautiful day in the Cotswold ruined. She turned her head from the shot red grouse that rained from a deep blue sky as if Maxim heavy machine guns were the weaponry of choice instead of breech-loading shotguns. Again, she adjusted her skinny behind on the damnable seat. Trying to ignore the pain from a blossoming bruise of the derriere, she pulled at her corset. To breathe some air in this heat!
Irritation picked at her last happy thought as downwind she heard her brothel-loving, twelve-year-old-girl-seducing, entitlement-inflated, estranged husband, with whom she couldn’t believe she’d ever had sex, laugh. A desire to rip a gun from any nearby loader and shoot the man was making her nauseous. She hadn’t really processed that Lord Flipping Albright would be here.
“Dear Lord, and I bloody insisted on coming.”
She sat behind the long line of gentlemen standing in their crescent-shaped shooting-butts. Why the hunters call the place they perch themselves “shooting butts” she had yet to understand. Maybe because they are shooting, and because she could see their butts—some were larger than others.
Eleanor’s blistered thoughts also wondered why only the birds were being killed and not the beaters. The beaters were the men out in front of the guns who wandered about and hit at the brush to get the birds to fly. Which was even more insane than attending the shoot. Granted, the beaters resemble the king, queen and jack in a deck of cards, and they are much brighter and much, much bigger than the birds. Still, with some of these shooters, regardless of the red tunics, size mattered.
Just in front of her, size seemed to matter to the host of the event. Lord Haversack. He was shooting—bang, bang, bang, bang, bang—and then swearing like a man possessed. He needed really big fowl.
Possessed, that’s what I must have been when I decided to get out of a soft bed in the middle of the night to scramble through a barley field in a long skirt. She picked at her blouse. Her undergarments were sticking to her like a depilatory. She pulled at her corset again. Damn thing. It was like being in the clutches of a drowning man. She fanned down her neck. Who would have thought October to be so hot? She wanted to raise her arms and let perspiration dry in the wind.
Her heart ached for the birds. They seemed forsaken. Oh, dear girl, ridiculous “forsaken,” maybe defenseless. Whatever they were, she felt one with them.
She poked cotton wool farther down her ears and tried not to flinch at the incessant sound of exploding powder across the golden stubble of the area. Her narrow shoulders seemed permanently lodged against her ears. She felt like an egg-bound hen. All this because she had left her husband and was back living with her mother. Mutiny. Damn it.
The dogs piled limp-headed birds at their masters’ feet.
“Just keep remembering who you are not sitting next to at the lodge, your mother-in-law...your mother...and Lady Pillock,” Eleanor said to herself, again.
She pictured Lady Pillock striding room to room, searching for any immobile person with two ears. Lady P had never been much of a philosopher even on her sober days. The woman was upheld most evenings by the stays in her full dresses. She always woke early, probably from her snoring. Lady Pillock was a hard female to avoid. She had just moved to Minister Lovell. She attended every party, was never ill, and her weight was in relation to how much she drank. Tons. The problem was, Eleanor did feel sorry for the woman and was an easy target for conversation.
Eleanor blew her nose and sighed. Her picture of Lady Pillock, wrapped in massive yards of seemingly armor-plated fabric, moving down the hallways like a river barge blasting a foghorn, made Eleanor smile, but it wasn’t enough. The air smelled bloody and smoky. As Eleanor watched clouds of birds rise like a fog, only to fall back to the ground again dead, she wished for a dram of what kept Lady P afloat.
She glanced next to her at Lord Louis Montfire and at the flask of whiskey he had in his hand. The Baron of Tweedmouth’s son had propped himself and his stick against a young tree, for support. A veteran of the carnage no doubt, he had brought refreshments.
She noticed that Louis looked pale and vague. He held his handkerchief to his nose and mouth. Now and then he wiped his eyes. A gentle soul, like a plump cherub, Louis Monfire tended to be a little soft around the edges. With birds dying everywhere, he was here, no doubt, in an endless attempt to please his father. What was it like to be the sweet son of a think-from-the-crotch type of father? Eleanor couldn’t imagine. Louis just kept covering his eyes and wiping his nose and leaning against the skinny tree.
She patted his shoulder, and then her nose seized. She sneezed and sneezed. Damn, what a world. They were both miserable, but here they were. It was like an Irishman's raise, a foot forward, two back.
Louis handed her a fresh handkerchief. “I bring loads to these things.”
Lavender scented, she noted. “You here for your father?”
“Absolutely, and I believe it is more peaceful here than at home. Here, I have the beautiful countryside. There, I have a house that’s a stage for a cast of bad actors. King Lear and his wife. You?”
“I have Lady Pillock. I’m too kind to shake her, and she knows it. Talk about a performer.”
He smiled—a little.
It was the most she had gotten out of him all morning. He was usually such fun. Talking, talking, talking like a female, a good-natured one. He was a hugger and a hand-patter, and his hazel eyes always shone in instant sympathy. He was everyone's best friend. Today, though, he seemed leaky, like something had let the air out of his soft body.
His pallor worried her. She always had concerns for Louis.
Eleanor glanced at her still-legal husband. She realized Louis had a million more reasons to do in his father. She placed her hand on Louis’s shoulder again. With the other hand, she dashed a tear from a corner of her eye. “You hate this sort of thing.” Eleanor waved out to the dying birds.
“I used to shoot, you know. I’d just shoot into the air, pretending, until I hit one. Now I watch. In a few more years maybe I can just show up for the wine at the luncheon.”
“How is your Father anyway?”
“The asthma not any better?” Or any worse, she thought to herself.
“I don’t ask.” He turned toward her. “Why are you here?”
“I couldn’t listen to one ounce more advice on being a good wife. He isn’t a good husband. I needed some air.” As the man she had promised to love and obey waited for more birds, she could hear him laugh.
“He doesn’t have a care in the world. Why do I feel so guilty, like I could have done more...or less? I’m so angry at the world that I’m snapping at everyone. It’s safer for them all if I’m here. I forgot he’d be here, and now this.” She waved her arm at the scene again. “They kill so many. It’s like they feel entitled to, to everything. I should have brought seed or something to feed the ones who live.”
Louis patted the back of her hand as she gazed again at the exponentially increasing number of dead birds. She tossed Louis a we’re-in-hell look, and then averted her eyes to the plump hills. Lines of beech trees quilted the fields in a patchwork. Red grouse had escaped to the branches. Probably the ones Haversack had been shooting at. Amen.
The beaters in their colorful, medieval tunics flushed another round of panting birds. The gracious host once again shot like a madman. His loader sweated at his side. There was a yell from the field, and then more yelling. Eleanor stood, letting her shooting stick fall to earth. She shaded her eyes. The butts were emptying; all the gentlemen had rushed out, all but the maniac shooter. At least Haversack had gone quiet. Her sanity felt better already.
With Louis beside her, Eleanor hurried forward. A beater was yelling. Someone was down, a beater in a purple tunic. She thought she knew the fair hair. Early that morning, he’d helped her over a ditch.
She walked faster, concentrating on missing any ankle-turning holes in the ground. Anger pushed her steps. Stupid. No one should walk in front of half of these lords especially with said lords’ guns loaded and half-cocked.
Louis got to the man first.
“Just a grazing,” he called out. “He’s breathing.”
Just a grazing, as in what a great shot to have just missed?
At the information, the lords about-faced in one movement, except Louis who took out his flask and another of his endless supply of handkerchiefs. He wet the cloth and pressed it against the man’s blonde hair. Patting either side of the beater’s jaw with the flat of his hand, Louis called, “Hello...hello?” Louis glanced up and down the body for another possible pooling of blood.
Eleanor knelt just as the beater’s eyes opened.
“Good man,” Louis said as he helped the man sit up, and then he gave him a drink from his flask.
Eleanor had been wondering about the flask. Louis never drank hard alcohol and didn’t like beer because it bloated him, but he had been sipping from the flask all morning.
Louis stayed with the man. “Scotch is just the thing,” he said as he offered what was left in his flask to the beater.
“Jesus,” the man kept saying as he scrutinized the field of shooters.
Louis and Eleanor helped the beater stand and walked with him to a wagon. He had been kind to her, and, well she stuffed some silver into the man’s hand.
Louis left the man in the charge of the other beaters. As Eleanor ambled away with Louis, she said to him, “I’m glad he is well. How do you get people to be beaters? It seems so dangerous.”
“It’s something men do.”
Eleanor attempted a deep breath. “I’ve been telling myself that a little fresh air is good for me. All this fresh air has done is clog up my sinuses.”
“We should trade,” Louis said. “I need your mother to say, ‘Stay at the lodge, darling, and let’s have a good chat,’ and you need my father to say, ‘Go out and make your mark.’”
She smiled at his observation. “Maybe it’s more interesting if you shoot? Not so damn many, but one for dinner.”
“It’s decent, until you hit something.”
Eleanor used her finger and thumb to make the shape of a gun, and then she aimed it at the backside of her husband. “Bam, bam.” She blew pretend smoke from the end of her finger. “See, that could be fun, and I wouldn’t mind hitting him.” She continued to stare at him. “Not at all.”
Louis laughed and then coughed and coughed.
She laughed and then sneezed.
“You are angry.” He handed her a fistful of handkerchiefs.
“Livid with an added drop or more of bitters.” She took the proffered linens.
“It’s good to have you and your finger here.” He laughed again. Now he was sounding more like himself. She also felt her mind lighten. Maybe this had been a good idea.
Louis and Eleanor ambled toward the rest of the shooters who were slapping each other on their backs and drinking whiskey from their silver flasks. The gentleman hunters were talking of traveling out of the area to the next shoot, and of joining King Edward at Sandringham. They talked about Sandringham, and how three hundred thousand pounds had been spent on it, thereby making it into a first class venue. The King had been talking of introducing Virginia quail and red grouse.
“Shooting may be the opposite of a hen party, but both have plenty of bloodshed,” she said to Louis as he continued to walk beside her. “Is it necessary, do you think, that they all shoot like maniacs?”
“According to the Great Lord Ripton, ‘Aim high, keep the gun moving, never check.’ At least that’s the advice I’ve been given”
She shook her head. “No wonder Haversack is out of control.”
“He’s not the only one. He’s just the most obvious. He shoots his foot every time; the others can at least miss their feet. There are some who are very good shots.”
“Three thousand five hundred and eighty,” a man called from the line of dead birds.
“Yes, I suppose there must be,” she said.
Eleanor left Louis to the men and walked to the luncheon tents. She thought of the very large glass of wine she was going to drink. To toast the health of the beater, and to Louis—a kind, suffering man. She couldn’t celebrate all that in just one glass.
Louis had joined the backslapping of the men. He seemed to enjoy that part. The other men liked him like they liked their favorite dogs. Better than their wives.
Eleanor wandered to the Windrush Creek to freshen a bit. She brushed hard at the straw imbedded in the fabric of her new skirt. The yellowed bits annoyed her with their tenacity. The great outdoors she thought with irritation, and then she dipped Louis’s handkerchief into the stream and dabbed at her neck and face.
She always left the house looking impeccable; somehow, she never returned that way. Louis on the other hand was always turned out. His thinning black hair always in place, his long hands always manicured. She must get some pointers.
The water felt good on her neck. Louis’s smell of lavender was soothing. The third-day-of-October’s bright sun had probably reddened her cheeks. Then, no one would notice if she had three large glasses of wine. Her Irish ancestors were right. Drink helped. Time to forget her husband and his fetishes; forget nearly dead beaters, and dead birds, and smoke, and blood.
As she was sweeping escaped locks of reddish-brown hair back into pins, she heard Lady Pillock's booming voice. Oh God, the women were arriving—like beautiful, feathered parrots disgorging from their opened cages. The sound was increasing.
Women are noisy.
The fish were rising. She wished she had her pole. Now that’s a sport. It did involve dead fish though. Maybe she could learn to shoot. A brace of birds, not a mob of the things. Not enough to wipe out the species for all eternity.
With that thought, Eleanor strolled through the servants who moved about the picnic area like insects while they finished unpacking the luncheon and arranging the tables in the tent with linen and silver. She bribed three full champagne glasses from the busy butler with a winning smile and felt good that she had done it. The first of the wine was going to Louis who still looked ghastly. If Louis was coming down with something, he should be in bed.
“Three? You are a darling,” he said. He took two, one for himself and one for Lord Charles Wallingford, and then kissed her on the cheek. She rolled her eyes. Of course she should have anticipated Charles would be with him. His fondness for Charles was legendary. She paused to take her own deep drink, one meant to wet the beater's head, and then she looked for another waiter. Stocked, again with two glasses, she walked toward the long line of carriages, and wondered who had injured the beater. As Louis had said, most of the shooters could at least manage to miss their extremities. Still, she could think of at least one who would be challenged to even hit the slow moving Pillock woman, and she was an ample target. With some shooters, the field was dangerous for everyone but the birds.