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The Man Whose Dream Came True

BOOK: The Man Whose Dream Came True
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Copyright & Information

The Man Whose Dreams Came True

 

First published in 1968

© Estate of Julian Symons; House of Stratus 1968-2011

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

 

The right of Julian Symons to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

 

This edition published in 2011 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.

 

Typeset by House of Stratus.

 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.

 

 
EAN
 
ISBN
 
Edition
 
 
1842329251
 
9781842329252
 
Print
 
 
0755129598
 
9780755129591
 
mobi/Kindle
 
 
0755129652
 
9780755129652
 
Epub
 

 

This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

 

 

www.houseofstratus.com

About the Author

 

Julian Symons was born in 1912 in London. He was the younger brother, and later biographer, of the writer A.J.A. Symons.

Aged twenty five, he founded a poetry magazine which he edited for a short time, before turning to crime writing. This was not to be his only interest, however, as in his eighty-two years he produced an enormously varied body of work. Social and military history, biography and criticism were all subjects he touched upon with remarkable success, and held a distinguished reputation in each field. Nonetheless, it is primarily for his crime writing that he is remembered. His novels were consistently highly individual and expertly crafted, raising him above other crime writers of his day.

 

Symons commenced World War II as a recognised conscientious objector, but nevertheless ended up serving in the Royal Armoured Corps from 1942 until 1944, when he was invalided out. A period as an advertising copywriter followed, but was soon abandoned in favour of full time writing. Many prizes came his way as a result, including two
Edgar Awards
and in 1982 he received the accolade of being named as
Grand Master
of the Mystery Writers of America – an honour accorded to only three other English writers before him: Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and Daphne Du Maurier. Symons then succeeded Agatha Christie as the president of Britain’s Detection Club, a position he held from 1976 to 1985, and in 1990 he was awarded the
Cartier Diamond Dagger
from the British Crime Writers for his lifetime’s achievement in crime fiction.

He published over thirty crime novels and story collections between 1945 and 1994; with the works combining different elements of the classic detective story and modern crime novel, but with a clear leaning toward the latter, especially situations where ordinary people get drawn into extraordinary series of events – a trait he shared with Eric Ambler. He also wrote two modern-day Sherlock Holmes pastiches. In
A Three Pipe Problem
the detective was ‘...a television actor,
Sheridan Hayes
, who wears the mask of
Sherlock Holmes
and assumes his character’. Several of Julian Symons’ works have been filmed for television.

 

Julian Symons died in 1994.

Introduction

The French call a typewriter
une machine á ècrire
. It is a description that could well be applied to Julian Symons, except the writing he produced had nothing about it smelling of the mechanical. The greater part of his life was devoted to putting pen to paper. Appearing in 1938, his first book was a volume of poetry,
Confusions About X
. In 1996, after his death, there came his final crime novel,
A Sort of Virtue
(written even though he knew he was under sentence from an inoperable cancer) beautifully embodying the painful come-by lesson that it is possible to achieve at least a degree of good in life.

His crime fiction put him most noticeably into the public eye, but he wrote in many forms: biographies, a memorable piece of autobiography (
Notes from Another Country
), poetry, social history, literary criticism coupled with year-on-year reviewing and two volumes of military history, and one string thread runs through it all. Everywhere there is a hatred of hypocrisy, hatred even when it aroused the delighted fascination with which he chronicled the siren schemes of that notorious jingoist swindler, Horatio Bottomley, both in his biography of the man and fictionally in
The Paper Chase
and
The Killing of Francie Lake
.

That hatred, however, was not a spew but a well-spring. It lay behind what he wrote and gave it force, yet it was always tempered by a need to speak the truth. Whether he was writing about people as fiction or as fact, if he had a low opinion of them he simply told the truth as he saw it, no more and no less.

This adherence to truth fills his novels with images of the mask. Often it is the mask of hypocrisy. When, as in
Death’s Darkest Face
or
Something Like a Love Affair
, he chose to use a plot of dazzling legerdemain, the masks of cunning are startlingly ripped away.

The masks he ripped off most effectively were perhaps those which people put on their true faces when sex was in the air or under the exterior. ‘Lift the stone, and sex crawls out from under,’ says a character in that relentless hunt for truth,
The Progress of a Crime
, a book that achieved the rare feat for a British author, winning Symons the US Edgar Allen Poe Award.

Julian was indeed something of a pioneer in the fifties and sixties bringing into the almost sexless world of the detective story the truths of sexual situations. ‘To exclude realism of description and language from the crime novel’ he writes in
Critical Occasions
, ‘is almost to prevent its practitioners from attempting any serious work.’ And then the need to unmask deep-hidden secrecies of every sort was almost as necessary at the end of his crime-writing life as it had been at the beginning. Not for nothing was his last book subtitled
A Political Thriller.

H R F Keating

London, 2001

PART ONE

Misfortunes of a Young Man

 

 

Chapter One

 

When the alarm bell rang Anthony Scott-Williams lay quite still and let the warm sun of Siena seep through his eyelids.

The day stretched out in front of him, an endless tape on which he would print the pleasures of eye and ear. He would rise and dress leisurely, leave the small hotel and go out into the whisky-coloured town not yet noisy with cars and scooters. Coffee and croissants on the pavement outside a small café and then the morning walk which would include perhaps the Duomo with its historical figures set in the marble that covered the whole floor of the church like an immense carpet. After the Duomo perhaps the Pinacoteca Nazionale, home of the Sienese painters, perhaps simply a random walk through the narrow streets, soaking up sun without bothering about churches or art galleries. In any case by midday he would be sitting in the Piazza del Campo, that wonderful shell-shaped open space, looking at the hard elegance of the Palazzo Pubblico, drinking the first aperitif of the day and letting the liquid Italian speech flow over him.

He yawned and opened his eyes. Siena disappeared, but he retained it for a few moments more by looking at the guidebook beside the bed. Had he placed the Palazzo Pubblico properly? Yes, here it was: ‘The Public Building, now used as Town Hall, is erected in the Piazza del Campo, a proud specimen of Middle Age architecture…’ And so on. Would he really have visited the Duomo, might he have been bored? In any case he was not in Siena but in Kent, and it was time to get up.

A look round the bedroom usually gave him pleasure. The Morris wallpaper – oh yes, he knew that it was Morris – with its great splashy purple flowers and delicate biscuit-coloured background, the dressing-table with silver hair brushes set out on it, the plain pile carpet, the comfortable bed in which he lay with its polished brass rails, and best of all the door leading to the green and black tiled elegance of the bathroom, really, what more could one want? And then to pad across the spongy carpet in bare feet as he did now, turn on the shower and adjust it so that the water was at just the right temperature, expose oneself to the hot water and end with the sharp ecstasy of the cold, all these were undeniably pleasures. He told himself so as he looked in the glass after shaving. ‘You’re a clever boy,’ he said. ‘But you’re lucky too.’ He stuck out a tongue which was revealed as perfectly pink. The glass showed him a leanly handsome face, yet one by no means cadaverous. Good teeth, a wide sensitive mouth, none of your nasty little rosebuds, a straight small nose, yes, he really congratulated himself on his face.

It was certainly a cushy billet. The drawn curtains revealed the long lawn, the pond beyond it and past the pond a glimpse of cattle grazing, the grass shining wetly under weak April sunlight, it was all quite perfect in its way even though it was just a tiny bit boring. He dressed with care – not that he ever dressed carelessly – in a light weight grey suit with just a hint of tweediness about it, and went down to breakfast. A dish over a hotplate revealed poached haddock when he lifted the lid, coffee bubbled faintly over another hotplate, the toast was crisp outside and soft within. Something was added to his pleasure by the knowledge that the fish knife and fork were Georgian silver.

Beside the plate lay the post, three envelopes addressed to the General. He slit the envelopes with a paper knife. An account from a builder for dealing with the dry rot in the attic, a request from the local branch of the British Legion for the General to give away the prizes at their yearly fete, and a letter from Colonel Hasty with whom he had been conducting a long correspondence on the General’s behalf about the movement of tanks in the Western Desert in June 1941. He skimmed through the letter, which contained mostly military information. It ended: ‘Re my suggested visit, my dear old Bongo, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you again and have a natter. It so happens I shall be down your way Wednesday the 21st, will you let me know if this suits you and at what time.’ A twinge of uneasiness touched him like a momentary toothache, but he ignored it. Why shouldn’t the old man have a natter with a friend? After breakfast he rang the little silver handbell on the table, and Doris came in.

She was one of two daily girls from the village who did the chores and lent a hand to Mrs Causley, the cook-housekeeper. Both girls were on the plump side for his taste, but he felt sure that Doris was ready for anything he cared to suggest. This sensibility to a woman’s feelings was one of the things upon which Tony prided himself. He couldn’t have said exactly how he knew, by a glance, a laugh, even a smell, but he always did know when a woman was ripe for love. It would be a mistake to do anything about Doris, who had a clodhopping boyfriend in the village, but he couldn’t resist a smile that brought a smile back, like a return of service at tennis.

‘Well, Doris, what news?’

‘Mrs Causley’s just taken up his tray.’

Everything was as it should be, but that early morning glimpse of Siena had unsettled him. He was really not prepared to cope with one of the old man’s moods, and he saw as soon as he entered the bedroom that the General was in a mood this morning. The breakfast tray had been pushed aside almost untouched and he was slumped in bed, his fine white hair unbrushed, the corners of his mouth turned down.

‘How are we this morning?’

‘Don’t know what you mean,
we. I
am not very well, I had a bad night. My back.’ The glare from under his brows might have terrified once. Now it asked for sympathy.

The
we
had been a mistake, too much like a male nurse, but what an irritable old thing he was. For that matter, he thought as he patted the pillows and eased the thin body up on to them and held the glass while the General used the brush painfully with rheumaticky hands, and gently massaged the area between the shoulder blades where the old man said he felt pain, for that matter he was a bit of a male nurse at times.

‘That woman will have to go. D’ye call that a three and a half minute egg?’ Tony looked at the top of the offending egg and made a clucking sound. ‘Can’t think why you don’t see it. She drinks.’ The remark seemed to call for no reply. ‘Don’t know why I have these pains. I know, I know, Moore says it’s muscular rheumatism. Moore’s a fool.’

‘What about getting up? Shall I help you?’

The old man looked up at him. ‘You’ve no idea what it’s like to be awake all night. I think about Miriam. Things were different then, I sometimes think my own life ended when she died.’

Miriam, the General’s wife, had died five years ago, long before Tony had come on to the scene. A photograph of her, aristocratic and disdainful, stood beside the bed and the General kissed it each night before he went to sleep. He sometimes wondered whether he would have got on with Miriam. Certainly he admired her flair for interior decoration as shown in his bedroom, in the striped wallpaper and chairs of the drawing-room and even the peacock blue walls and very pale blue carpet of this bedroom. But would they have found each other sympathetic? Looking at the jutting jaw he thought not.

‘Shall I give you a hand with dressing?’

‘Not a bloody invalid yet. Sorry, didn’t mean to snap.’ The knobbly hand touched his own for a moment. Filthy old devil, Tony thought, I know what you’re like, Miriam or no Miriam, soldiers are all the same. ‘You’re good to me.’ The chalky fingers touched his again.

‘You might like to see this.’

The General read Hasty’s letter and began to snort like a horse. ‘The man’s a lunatic, a bloody imbecile. Look at this. He’s got the audacity to say here, “I had the impression at the time that we were unprepared for the speed with which Jerry moved his armour. Anyway, it caught us on the hop.” I told you Hasty was an idiot, didn’t I?’

‘Do you want to see him? You see he’s coming down this way tomorrow.’

‘See him? I should think I do. I’ll rub his nose in it, I’ll rub Ted Hasty’s nose in it. Call him up and ask him to lunch.’

‘There are a couple of other letters, one asking you to open a British Legion fete.’

The General had been bouncing up and down in the bed. He stopped suddenly. ‘Can’t do it. Not well enough, no time anyway.’

‘And here’s Clinker’s account.’

The General examined it through a pair of rimless pince-nez. ‘Hell of a lot of money, should have got an estimate.’

‘If you remember he said he couldn’t give one, couldn’t tell how much work there was until he opened up the timbers.’

‘It’s robbery, but make out a cheque and I’ll sign it. Later. And get out all the Western Desert papers, I want to go through them. I shall have something to say to Ted Hasty about the use of armour. Don’t forget to call him up.’

Tony did so half an hour later. A surprisingly quiet and cool voice (surprisingly because ‘Ted Hasty’ conjured up a choleric personality) said that he would be down at about twelve-thirty and sent kindest regards to Bongo.

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