The Fallen Parler
Author: B.C. Safari
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© B.C. Safari 2016
All rights reserved, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, brands, names, places, media and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are used in a fictitious nature.
To Denver, Cyprena, Agnes and Lydia… the meres that enchant my world.’
‘The Butler’s Plea’
Every year, there is at least one momentous scandal, more outrageous than its forerunner, which sets a tide of shock rippling through the city of London. This year, this autumn to be exact, that outrageous scandal was the death of Allan Roterbee. Mr. Roterbee’s death was (and still is) a particularly uneasy case to swallow. Even today, such a case provokes twiddling thumbs, furrowing brows and awkward silences at the dinner table – partly because it’s much too grave to ever be discussed nonchalantly, and partly because it’s simply much too mysterious. According to the best coroners in the city, Mr. Roterbee should’ve been alive this very moment, with a beating heart and a firm set of respiring lungs. His vitals were, so to speak, immaculate (which of course was a mystery in itself). However, the utmost mystery surrounding the great Allan Roterbee’s death was his dying gaze. Some gossips went as far as to say that it was filled with unadulterated shock. Perhaps, the sins of his past had finally caught up with him…and they were far too large and numerous for the old fat cat to stomach. So, he simply didn’t. Regardless, the death of Allan Roterbee would soon be a thing of the past. As with all scandals in the city, no one ever cared enough to ponder. It was all to be yesterday’s news by the succeeding dawn. However, there were two people who would never forget the scandal, two people who’d lived the scandal, and breathed the scandal, for what seemed like weeks on end. Charlotte and Allan Junior were sitting as far apart as any two people could sit at the backside of a black funeral limousine. The world outside the glass window was almost mute and the vehicle engine was the only soundtrack. The butler twiddled his thumbs on the wheel as he waited for traffic to shift a little.
‘That was a wonderful send off,’ he said, finally.
Peter, who was driving the vehicle, peered through the rear-view mirror and studied the silent responses of Charlotte and Junior Roterbee. The Roterbee twins wore sullen expressions; the boy was distant and his sister, deep in thought.
Speaking into the silence once more, Peter sighed, ‘your father would have loved it.’
A slow, despairing smile worked across Charlotte’s face. Peter lied, her father would’ve hated it. Allan always hated funerals, and all other occasions that involved any number of people congregating together. He, like Charlotte, would’ve struggled through the insufferable funeral hymns and like Junior, Allan may have found himself staring into his palms. Lost. He would’ve fidgeted his way through the service and swiftly disappeared, before anyone could take note of his absence. The butler lied, Allan Roterbee would’ve hated his own funeral, and may have struggled with the concept of celebrating his own death. Strangely, Charlotte had adopted a rather mature response to the news of her father’s death. Her poise and maturity did not go unnoticed by any of the funeral attendees, who were, themselves, disturbed by the whole tragedy. Today was the last goodbye to her father, and Charlotte decided that today would also mark her last day of mourning. Allan would’ve wanted just that. Charlotte strummed against her dark locks and hoped, deeply, that someday soon her brother would come around. Junior cleared his throat, breaking an unhealthy silence, which was much too readily resumed. Charlotte’s twin was a stony corpse, and contrary to the general consensus, this had nothing to do with the weather. He had not said a word the entire day and had not taken in many either. Junior ignored his sister’s attempts to paint their situation as anything better than it was. They were orphans, motherless, and in wake of Allan Roterbee’s death, fatherless. Following Mr. Roterbee’s disreputable passing, the shares of the priceless Roterbee estate had tanked irredeemably, rendering Charlotte and Junior penniless. Their inheritance was stored away in barred trust funds, which could only be accessed when the Roterbee twins reached the legal age of 18 (a clause in Mr. Roterbee’s will). That date was several months away; the thought of it both infuriated and amused Junior. His father had foreseen that, if premature death ever became him, something else would have to prevent Junior from gambling his inheritance (or joining a rock band). Charlotte, on the other hand, was always responsible with money. Regardless, Mr. Roterbee had provisionally debarred them both of their rightful assets. A peculiar clause in the fine print of his will pressed that Junior and Charlotte be awarded a set of old family heirlooms (the Roterbee ring and the necklace equivalent, respectively). Their current guardian, Peter, performed Allan’s last wish in granting the Roterbee twins their father’s trinkets. This meant little to Junior, who had already made plans to pawn the dusty sapphire gem. Any happy memories he had ever shared with his father were obliterated within the first few seconds of discovering Allan Roterbee’s corpse. Peter suggested therapy for Junior; no child should ever have to see the body of a dead parent. Junior rebuffed this suggestion, choosing to believe that Allan’s alleged suicide was less a cry for help than it was a coward’s escape. In his last days, Allan Roterbee had become distant, caring for neither his children nor his career. Allan never gave much care for anything other than his own affairs, which he seldom disclosed. This was the Allan Roterbee that Junior remembered… a cold, uninterested and reticent man. The engine growled and broke Junior’s trail of thought. Suddenly, Peter propelled onto the bus lane, bypassing the traffic. No one dared beep at the funeral vehicle which, to Charlotte, was the most awesome event that had occurred all day. Charlotte nudged her brother to test if he also delighted in zooming past the other miserable, traffic-bound vehicles.
‘Liven up, Junior!’ she snickered, ‘we’re nearly home.’
Junior’s glance flickered from the window slowly, but bounced to the floor rather than his sister.
‘I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your situation,’ said Peter, greatly pleased that the silence had been broken by someone other than himself.
‘Naturally, Dr. Willow has agreed to take you in.’
Dr. Willow was a distant relative of Allan Roterbee’s, he was a man that the Roterbee twins had never once met. Aside from a few Christmas cards, the doctor was certainly a glorified stranger. As he never had any children of his own, Charlotte believed that Dr. Willow was poorly qualified to assume a position of permanent guardianship. Allan once spoke highly of the doctor, claiming that he had never met another man as trustworthy as Augustus Willow. Those were the only words the late Mr. Roterbee ever uttered concerning Dr. Willow. Glowering at Peter through the rear-view mirror, Junior exclaimed his first words of the day, ‘I’m not going anywhere...and neither is Charlotte!’
Peter’s cheeks lit up and reddened his usually pallid complexion. He squinted at the road and narrowed his vista away from Junior’s eyes. The butler huffed internally, he considered that Junior’s eruption was merely the devious tantrum of an anxious, bereaved teenager. Such behaviours were not alien to Junior’s character, for he had always been a resistant child, and
then a troublesome adolescent.
Sternly, Peter replied, ‘I can’t change the will…Dr. Willow is now your legal guardian.’
‘That’s hardly reasonable, Peter!’ cried Charlotte, as thin worry lines worked between her brows, ‘we don’t even know the man.’
Climbing in his seat, Junior declared, ‘I’m not leaving my school, my friends, or my life behind. We’ll be eighteen in a few months and then we can take care of ourselves.’
Peter sucked in a deep breath. Somehow the butler knew that, as stubborn as he was, Junior had a valid point. If it was his own right to make the decision, and not that of the recently deceased Mr. Roterbee, Peter would have taken the twins as his own.
‘I’m only following your father’s wishes,’ muttered Peter, suddenly resolute.
‘THEN UNFOLLOW THEM!’ bellowed Junior, ‘all you ever did was follow Allan Roterbee’s orders…and now he’s dead!’
‘JUNIOR!’ gasped Charlotte, glowering at her brother as though he had uttered the world’s most treacherous words, ‘today of all days…have a little respect for our father!’
Junior slumped back into his seat and managed a pathetic sulk. Charlotte’s eyes rolled, once more, to the world outside the car window. Sniffing back tears in the backseat of the funeral vehicle, Charlotte suddenly felt the gravity of all her bottled grief. Allan was really gone and, in some irreconcilable way, her life would never be the same. Charlotte assumed that the death of her father would finally force Junior to mature. If anything, it was clear that Allan’s death had encouraged the opposite effect.
Peter did not talk again for the remainder of the drive, but dwelled on Junior’s frustrated utterances. There was some forsaken truth in what the boy had said. For as long as he worked for Mr. Roterbee, Peter had not broken a single of his boss’s commands. Peter was always an obedient butler at Mr. Roterbee’s lavish abode, where he tended to the needs of the Roterbee twins. The butler never forecasted that the job would be a permanent one, but each year rolled seamlessly, and soon he grew to care for the twins. Against the feelings of his wife, Sonia, Peter spent more time looking after Charlotte and Junior Roterbee than he spent looking after his own affairs. As Allan Roterbee was largely indifferent to Peter’s presence in and around his home, the butler often wondered whether his lengthy contract was bribed by the twins, begging their father to let him stay on.
When they arrived home, Peter’s wife had already cooked a late supper. Though she had always considered the twins a spoilt pair, Sonia could not help but pity their situation. Sonia never had any kids of her own, and she often suspected this the prime factor behind Peter’s peculiar bond with his boss’s children. Both Sonia and Peter had temporarily moved into the Roterbee Manor, presumably to look after the twins. But one only had to perceive the fascination in Sonia’s expression each time Allan’s costly China was mentioned, to know that looking after the twins was not her cardinal imperative. Earlier that week, Charlotte took note of the sudden disappearance of two golden spoons from the dining room collection, and subconsciously branded Sonia a raving kleptomaniac. Unwilling to offend Peter, Charlotte never voiced these feelings aloud.
Supper at the dinner table was even colder than the car ride home. Now and then, Sonia would spurt a joke which would often make no sense at all, or be somewhat inappropriate. The butler always laughed with his wife, and if Junior was in his right mind, he may have chuckled along. Poking her knife at Junior’s plate, Sonia garbled, ‘are you going to eat that lamb chop?’
Junior tilted his plate at Sonia silently, granting her the scrap meat.
‘Everything is booked, including the coach tickets,’ mumbled Peter, ‘and Sonia has more or less packed all that you’
Charlotte made no attempt to retort but simply exhaled a sorrow-filled sigh. Peter could sense her disapproval but he knew that Charlotte would obey her father’s wishes, even if it meant leaving everything behind.
‘I told you before… I’m not going,’ muttered Junior, ‘no way.’
The stern resistance in his voice told that Junior’s decision was unbendable. Sonia, who was generally a talkative woman, would’ve usually taken to Junior’s resistance by yelling over the dinner table, ‘it’s only for a few months, boy!’ but today, she, and everyone else within Junior’s vicinity, sensed that he could not be moved.
When supper was done, Sonia and Peter cleared the table and Junior ascended to his room. The young man kicked off his shoes in reflex and dived into his bed. This was his favourite place. He would never be able to recline anywhere else, and especially not within the abode of Dr. Willow. Before long, his ears were plugged and his iPod placed on automatic shuffle. His favourite band had almost driven him to sweet solace when two familiar shadows appeared in the doorway.
What do they want now?
Peter and Sonia strode to Junior’s bedside, miming words which he could only decipher once he had fully dislodged his earphones.