This story is dedicated to my very good Internet friend LadyCibelle with whom I've had no communication for a worryingly long period of time now. Would anyone who has direct knowledge of her present situation please contact me?
I sincerely thank those folks from around the world, who have assisted in the preparation this text for posting.
The following is a work of fiction. Any similarity between characters within the story and any actual persons either living or dead is completely unintentional and purely coincidental.
It was big place and, I had to admit impressive. For some inexplicable reason the modern exterior hid an interior decked-out in the style of an ancient baronial castle, kind-a like the lavish film sets you sometimes see in films. Basically a Victorian interpretation of an ideal medieval castle: they actually didn't have the technology to build large or extravagantly as that in the real old days.
One thing I knew for sure, was that the wedding wouldn't have been located in such an establishment, had I'd been footing the bill. But hey, my ex-wife Shona had made damned sure that would never happen many years before.
I really thought I'd found myself a safe secluded spot, (tucked away in a pseudo-Minstrels Gallery that doubled-up as spot-lighting tower and projection room) from where I could watch the ceremony but not be seen by anyone on the floor of the main hall below.
I had been well aware that my presence – should it become known – would prove to be somewhat controversial to say the least, and would probably lead to an unfortunate confrontation between my one time in-laws and myself. I also had been pretty convinced that my daughter would not have best pleased should that happen. I even had it figured that Tamsin would have been even less pleased to learn of my presence than The Witch and George (her side-kick husband) would be.
Anyway, there I was, quietly tucked away in the back of the – usually ignored – minstrels' gallery, from where I could observe my estranged daughter's wedding, when suddenly a voice whispered right in my ear.
"Hi handsome! I figured you wouldn't pass-up on this little shindig!"
To say the sound of that voice gave me a start, would be putting it mildly. I quite literally leapt off the fishing stool I was perched upon and crashed to the floor. Yeah well, if I was low-down sitting on that little stool and observing the service through/between the balustrade's bars, I'd figured there'd be less chance of anyone spotting me.
The clatter that little aluminium stool had made as it tumbled to, and then skidded across, the stone floor of the minstrels' gallery had to be have been witnessed to be believed. I figured that all chance of my presence remaining clandestine had instantly evaporated.
From my new position – flat on my back on the floor – I looked up and saw 'Trouble' towering over me. My daughter's very embarrassed looking Aunt, was making frantic apologetic gestures with her hands towards the body of the hall below.
Megan – or "Trouble" as I'd humorously nicknamed her in our younger days – was, or rather had been, my ex-wife's mischievous younger sister. Megan had very often been the bane of our courting years.
A glance between the bars of the balustrade informed me that my hidey-hole had suddenly become the centre of attention for almost everybody in the building. Bride, groom, celebrant, photographer, choir, film-cameraman and most of the congregation were all staring up at Megan with annoyed and/or somewhat puzzled expressions on their faces.
So I flattened myself to the floor as best I could and prayed that no bugger had noticed me. Megan after, signalling that the service should proceed, picked-up my little stool and delicately plonked her own pert derriere upon it.
From my prone position I could no longer see the floor of the main hall, but I could just about hear what was going on below and I soon gathered that the wedding service had resumed. I kind-of hoped the incident had been put down as one of Megan's stunts. Megan's penchant for outlandish behaviour and the unexpected were legendary within the family, even when she had been a child.
"It's okay, you can watch now." Megan whispered. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make you jump, Billy."
"Make me jump woman. You damned near gave me a bleeding heart attack! Where did you learn to creep around like that, Megan?" I whispered, as I manoeuvred myself into a position from which I could observe what was happening below. Well, it was obvious to me that I'd lost the use of my little stool for the duration.
"Oh, I kind-a picked it up as a kid, sneaking up on a couple of lovers I used to know." She glanced down and winked at me.
"You cheeky little monkey!"
"I'm not so little now, Billy boy. You just watch your step or you might find yourself getting ravished later."
"Oh no I won't, Megan. I'm on the four-thirty train out of this bleeding hell hole!"
Megan glanced down at me again. Made a strange (but oddly familiar) gesture with her eyes – that I seemed to recall implied "That's what you think!" -- and then gestured towards the service below with her hand. Effectively informing me that the conversation was suspended until after the ceremony had run its course.
I'd always liked Shona's little sister. Yeah, sometimes she'd been a real pain in the ars ... backside while Shona and I had been courting. But Shona had ever been less tolerant of 'Trouble's' antics than I. Megan had always struck me as basically a good-hearted kid who wanted attention. There had been a good four years between the two sisters; a recipe for strife if ever I saw one. I'd always figured that Megan just hadn't understood that her elder sibling, and I of course, required a little privacy now and again.
The service over, I did my best to get a good look at the groom as he paraded Tamsin out of the hall. Not that the angle made that a simple task if I were going to remain out of sight. From what I could make of the lad, he looked a decent enough chap to me.
Luckily everyone appeared to be so focused on the bride and groom, that I don't think anyone even glanced up at the Minstrels Gallery again.
But, the moment the cortège had passed out of sight below us, Megan began attempting to drag me to my feet.
"Come-on Billy, we'd better get down to the dining room!"
I resisted Megan's frantic pulling at my arm, trying to stay safely out of sight until all of the guests had vacated the hall.
"Megan there's no way in hell I'm going to show my face at that reception. Jesus, I'd end up in the slammer!"
"Don't talk nonsense, Billy; it's your own daughter's wedding! Why would the police want to arrest you?"
"Well, there's that bleeding restraining order for starters!" I blustered.
"No Billy, Shona's dead now and she's the only person named on that restraining order. When he killed her, that order instantly became null and void."
"What do you mean, he killed her?" I demanded, almost leaping to my feet. "It was an accident ... wasn't it?"
"Billy, that bleeding tosser always drove like a bloody idiot ... still does come to that! That geezer was ... is a disaster waiting to happen every time he gets behind a damned steering wheel. Have you any idea how fast he was going that day?"
"I know very little about it, Megan!"
"I saw the skid-marks on the road, Billy. He was driving like a bleeding idiot that night, just like he always does. I just can't understand how he wasn't prosecuted for killing my sister. Even Tamsin knows who is to blame for her mother's death. You'll have noticed that he wasn't down there today; he wasn't invited!"
"Neither was I, Megan!"
"Yes you were ... in a round-about way. It was just that I couldn't find you to let you know. Look here, my invite says 'Ms Megan Stone and guest!' No provisos or anything. Guess who my guest is going to be?"
I laughed out loud.
"You've got to be joking Megan. Me, turn-up at a Stone wedding? Been there once remember my girl ... and you recall how that turned out in the long term!"
"The fact that my sister was a silly cow, has nothing to do with it, Billy. You are Tamsin's father and ... Jesus, you should have been down there today, giving her away - not her grandfather!
"Now you and I are going to attend the reception together and I don't want to hear any nonsense about restraining orders. My Uncle Albert assures me that there are no legal grounds for you not to attend as my guest. As a matter of fact, he thinks it's a damned good idea. He was always in your camp, you know; even when things got messy."
"I kind-a wondered why the old bugger didn't represent Shona." I commented.
"Look Billy, if my Uncle Albert had thought he could have got away with it, I'm damned sure he'd have represented you for free. He was singularly unimpressed with my sister's behaviour back then and really laid into her ... and my mum and dad over it. He blatantly refused to represent Shona. To the best of my knowledge, he and mother haven't spoken two civil words to each other since."
"The only time I've seen them in the same room together was at Shona's funeral. I think Uncle Albert was a little disappointed that you were a no-show that day."
"I wasn't even in the country Megan. I was backing-up a crew filming the fauna and flora down on South Georgia. Since those folks got trapped down there when the Argentineans invaded ... well, they prefer us not to be too far away with the ship if we can help it. Anyway I knew nothing of Shona's accident until three months after her funeral, when we got back to the UK. I ran into Toby ... er, whatever his name is, down in Falmouth, and he told me about the accident."
While listening to my explanation Megan had wrestled me to my feet and had been, busy brushing the dust off my whistle.
(No! That's my suit. Christ, some peoples minds; I ask you!)
"Come along, Billy," Megan continued, "Let's get down to the reception before the receiving line breaks-up."
From the firm hold Megan had taken upon my arm, I understood that ... whether I appreciated the idea or not ... Megan had decided that I was going to attend my daughter's wedding reception. Against my better judgement, I suppose I must have conceded defeat.
I have to admit that that was probably only due to the not inconsiderable sum of alcohol I'd consumed during the previous twenty-four hours. That served to cloud my judgment just enough to allow me to acquiesce to Megan's wishes.
Yeah well, look I'd better explain. When Shona and I first ... split-up, I have to admit that I hadn't handled the situation as well as I could have done. In fact I'd ended-up spending more than a few days as the guest of the US authorities (or the local law enforcement anyway) when I'd taken it upon myself to administer a little ... retribution. I gave the "new man" in Shona's life, a bit of a pasting.
A knee-jerk and somewhat satisfying exercise it might have been. But one that was to prove to have been very misguided in the long term. The confrontation had not ended as I'd expected and the fall-out had led to me getting my backside thoroughly kicked.
You see regretfully Shona had become entangled in the mêlée somehow and that had resulted in her visiting a nearby Emergency Room (as the Yanks like to term them). Hence my incarceration, and numerous Court Orders issued in both the US and the UK jurisdictions, forbidding me from going within a mile or so, of Shona's whereabouts, forever; or just about.
Whatever - I can assure the reader that I personally have never laid a finger upon my errant wife. Well, not to my knowledge anyway! (That statement will probably make a little more sense to you later, I'm sure.)
Where was I? Oh yeah!
Anyway after the Courts had had their way, I found myself an ex-con (as the Yanks like to refer to us) and branded a hooligan and wife beater. And subsequent to the fight, my parental rights where our daughter Tamsin were concerned, were unceremoniously removed: almost all of which took place while I was still incarcerated in a US slammer by the way. Not a very enjoyable experience, I can assure you. Mind you, nothing in my life proved to be much fun around that time.
The ex-con label didn't exactly do my working career much good either. You try getting a work Visa for the US with that kind of a record!
Albeit all of that hadn't stopped Shona (aided by the British legal system) demanding financial support from me for Tamsin, until the child reached the age of eighteen years.
I'm not very proud to have to admit, that after having my arse-kicked that efficiently by the system, I'd taken solace in drink for a while.
However I had managed not to become a complete wreck or a card-carrying alcoholic. But that's probably more down to my inherited biological make-up, rather than any mental will, if you get my drift. However I had still required a little 'something' to help me face that particular day.
"You're still working in the film industry, Billy?" Megan asked, as she guided a somewhat diffident me (hence our slow progress) down the stairs and into the establishment's main foyer.
"No, not really, Megan." I replied, "I suppose you could say I'm in shipping now. Most of the time I'm a seaman on research ships and the like, although I still do quite a lot of filming. I suppose it's kind-a handy for them to have a spare or second, experienced cameraman on the crew to help document things. Sometimes I'm the only cameraman on board."
"You gave-up on Hollywood then?"
"Megan, I never did work for any of the big boys. The best I ever managed was cameraman on second units. On pretty mediocre third-rate films, at that! Unfortunately for me, my wife was a far bigger hit with the directors and producers than my work ever was."
"Shona always wanted to be a star, Billy! You knew that before you married her."
"Yeah, but I had no idea how far she'd go to fulfil her dream. Oh shit, will you look at that lot?"
We had arrived in the hotel's foyer that we had to pass through to get to the entrance of the function room, within which Tamsin's wedding reception was going to be ... staged. The vast expanse was crowded with guests patiently queuing to join the formal receiving line.
I figured that 'The Witch' – Megan and Shona's mother – had planned the show and she'd pulled-out all the stops on this one. The Witch has even greater delusions of grandeur than my ex-wife had enjoyed. The Witch had planned and organised our nuptials, although they hadn't been on the same scale as this shindig.
I might add, that The Witch and I had never been members of each other's respective fan clubs. So I had it figured that my appearance at this reception could go disastrously wrong.
Once anonymously buried in amongst the crowd, I didn't feel quite so ... vulnerable. Although more than one of our fellow guests/relatives did a quick double-take as they recognised me - probably from Shona's and my own wedding many years before.
I also knew that somewhere out there I did have a few allies, but they would remain strictly clandestine. Generally the Stone's were a pretty close clan.
Eventually though the crowd began to thin and The Witch finally caught sight of me from her place a little way down the receiving line. Her face instantly turned a crimson colour, and for a moment there I thought I detected smoke emanating from her ears.
Although I protested, Megan frogmarched me through the function room entrance and up to the beginning of the receiving line.
Tamsin's new husband was instantly struck-dumb when Megan introduced him to his bride's father. The poor lad really didn't know what to do or say.
I shook a very limp hand.
Tamsin was equally shocked, if not more so. As I looked into her eyes they just grew larger and larger until I feared that they were about to pop out of her skull.
You know, I really do believe that the child had no clue as to who I was, until she'd heard her Aunt Megan informing her new spouse that I was Tamsin's father.
For some inexplicable reason I chose to say. "Hi kiddo, long time since I bounced you on my knee!" Before I took the equally limp hand she was holding out and kissed the back of it.
Yeah well, I did think about giving Tamsin a hug; but I feared she might faint on me, if I did.
Tamsin's reply was limited to, "B, b, b, b, but, but!" Before Megan elbowed me on along the line.
The next face that came into my view was The Witch's sidekick George. He did recognise me and he handled the situation quite well. Well, I thought he did!
"William, we weren't ... er, well, this is an unexpected surprise. How did you... ?"
"Billy's my guest daddy. If he goes, I go as well!" Megan commanded from beside me.
I kind-a wondered if Megan had even spoken to Tamsin. It seemed to me that there just wasn't the time.
"I wouldn't suggest that for a moment, Megan." The old sod replied, "Of course William is welcome here today. I was just surprised that he was in the country. Your mother assured me that he was working down in the antipodes somewhere at present."
"I've been working in the Antarctic, sir." I have no idea why I addressed the bugger as 'Sir'; habit I suppose. "My ship docked in New Zealand five weeks ago." I informed the old codger.
"See Megan, your mother did try to contact William. You got her message I assume, William. Your mother told you she would contact William, Megan! You're very welcome here today my boy."
George had switched his attention between, Megan and myself as he spoke.
Whatever he said, I was sure that there had been no message. In the age of modern electronic communication, things are pretty good down there. Just sometimes interrupted by extreme bad weather on the shore basses.
So for all the old-boy's assurance otherwise, I was pretty positive that I had never been included on the guest-list, even tentatively. The fact that my ex-mother-in-law had vanished from the receiving line by the time we reached her place, assured me of that fact.
I kind-a wondered whether she'd dashed off to call the police or something.
Tamsin's new in-laws were polite ... pleasant, and obviously very confused. They didn't exactly look like they had seen a ghost. Better described as shocked, to find themselves shaking hands with one, I would have described it.
All rather amusing from my perspective, but it did cause me to wonder exactly what they'd been told about Tamsin's father.
The majority of the other guests had not the slightest clue as to whom I was, so it was more with curiosity (probably as to why Megan had chosen to watch the wedding ceremony from the Minstrels Gallery) that we were gazed upon as we left the receiving line.
I, like everyone else grabbed myself a glass of bubbly from a handy passing waitress and downed it in a single gulp. Megan instructed me to slow-down -- in no uncertain terms -- after I grabbed hold of a second glass.
Then the impressive bulk of Sir Albert Stone appeared through the throng. I kind-a wondered why Uncle Albert hadn't been included in the receiving line, he was generally accepted as the patriarch of the whole damned clan.
"William, my boy. How pleasant it is to see that you are here today. Hyacinth (The Witch) had me believing that you were abroad and would be unable to attend." Albert said, proffering his hand for me to shake.
I can't claim that I'd ever liked the old bugger. Megan's Uncle Albert is a barrister by calling and had always appeared far too formal for my liking. As a young man I'd felt a natural aversion to his type. An aversion that had since been reinforced somewhat, by my ... encounters with the legal profession.
However Megan had implied that the old sod had taken my side during the train-wreck ending of my marriage. In consequence I was forced to undertake a rapid re-evaluation of my feelings towards the character.
"How do you do, sir?" I found myself responding as I shook his hand. "It's nice to meet you again."
"Capital, capital." Albert grinned back at me.
I'm really not sure what the "Capital, capital," phrase is supposed to mean or imply. But from memory I knew that it was Uncle Albert's habitual response to almost anything and everything that was ever said to him; provided things were going as the old codger wished, that is!
At that instant Tamsin – her duties on the receiving line apparently fulfilled – appeared before me.
In fact (forgetting her manners completely) Tamsin elbowed her way rather rudely between her Uncle Albert and myself. The expression on Tamsin's face I can only describe as one of overt distaste.
"You've got some front, turning up here! What are you after, some kind of a hand-out or something; or did you just want to embarrass me?" Tamsin demanded, albeit surprisingly quietly.
I suppose I should point out here that Tamsin's words -- and the manner in which she phrased them -- were lifted directly from The Witch's repertoire. It hadn't been my daughter speaking to me. It was a Tamsin who'd been brainwashed since shortly after her birth, by The Witch! Understanding that fact left me disappointed, but I did not hold Tamsin's attitude towards me against her. It just assured me that things were as I'd always expected they would be.
I looked from my daughter to Albert, and then at Megan stood by my side.
"I told you this was not a good idea, Megan. I'd better leave now." I said and turned to walk away.
"No, just a minute young man?" Albert called out. Loud enough to draw the attention of almost everyone standing near. And with authority enough to bring me to an instant halt.
I turned back, wondering what the old boy was going to say.
"Tamsin, your father has travelled almost halfway around the world to be here with you on this, your special day. The very least you can do is behave civilly toward him!"
In fact Albert's statement was untrue, I nearly always spent the British summer months in the UK. Most of my ship/natural history work was in Antarctic waters, but very little goes on down there during that time of the year.
My daughter looked ... well, I'm not sure ... perplexed, I suppose you would call it. She glanced from me to her Uncle, at all the people watching and then back at me again. Then she said.
"I'm sorry ... father! Your unexpected presence took me by surprise. You've never made a point of being interested in my life."
"And just where did you get hold of that idea, Tamsin?" Albert ... roared. "I'll have you know young lady, that your father has followed your development extremely closely. He's risked arrest on numerous occasions, just so that he could witness significant events ... occasions in your life! Haven't you young man?"
"I'm sorry sir," I began to reply, but Albert -- on a roll -- continued speaking.
"Prize giving at that damned silly expensive school your mother insisted on shipping you off to. I have it on very good authority that your father was there for every one of them. And, he was also at your graduation from university!
"Damn-it girl, you walked right past your father to collect your diploma, without even noticing him. He knew who you were, but you failed to recognise him. Mind you, neither did your mother and that possibly saved your father from a visit to the local magistrates' court."
"I didn't know you were there Uncle Albert." Tasnim ventured.
"I wasn't, Tamsin! Not as regularly as I'd liked to have been, anyway. Your mother and I had our differences - you know that! But I have people who have kept a wary eye on your development all these years, and they could recognise your father. It wouldn't have done for one of them to have inadvertently broken your father's cover, would it? When your mother was around, your father's presence was technically illegal.
"I would suggest, Tamsin that you smile sweetly and forget your imagined differences with your father. I assure you, he ... or rather your father's reputation in your eyes, has always fallen victim to circumstance, coupled your late mother's exceedingly poor judgement. Lets have a family truce for this special day, shall we?"
By this time my daughter was looking rather sheepish.
"If you insist Uncle," Tamsin conceded, then added. "But I have to wonder what his motivation is for coming here today."
Then Tamsin turned her back on me and strode away into the crowd. After watching her retreat Albert turned to me.
"William, I'm afraid your daughter has only ever heard a very one-sided account of ... her parents divorce. It never did help that you and Hyacinth did not see eye to eye in the first place."
"I was never good enough for Shona in her mother's eyes, sir!" I replied.
"No one could ever have been good enough for Hyacinth, William. I don't think even my brother fulfils that description in my sister-in-law's eyes. However, it would appear that Hyacinth might have thrown-in the towel. She's up there on the dais, apparently rearranging the seating plan at the top table."
Sure enough when I looked, The Witch – assisted by her ever-bumbling sidekick of a husband George – did appear to be rearranging the place settings.
As we watched, I saw one of the photography crew approach them. The Witch had a short discussion with the guy, then – Hyacinth apparently happy with her rearrangements – the little entourage left the dais.
"They're setting up for the group photographs, Billy. We'd better go." Megan informed me quietly.
"No, you go Megan. Tamsin is not best pleased I'm here. Besides, I'd look completely out of place in the photographs not wearing a monkey outfit. It would spoil the set-up."
"Don't argue Megan. I'm on the verge of leaving anyway. I knew this wasn't a good idea."
After some more protest, not only from Megan but also from her Uncle Albert, they left me alone and went outside for the photo shoot. Much to my relief almost all the other guests also went out into the hotel's gardens to watch or take part.
I took the opportunity to slip up onto the dais and do a little rearranging of my own.
Sure enough The Witch had seated me alongside Tamsin's new husband. But considering my daughter's demeanour and the fact that I'd never met the young man before, I though that that might be asking for trouble.
And besides Megan, Uncle Albert and his wife – apparently my only overt allies -- were way down the end of the table. So I put Tamsin's grandfather back in that place (where I suspected he had been seated on the original plan). Then I shoved my own – hastily scribbled card -- alongside Megan down the end of the table. I sort-of figured that that was a far safer arrangement.
On her return from the photo shoot, Megan went into spoilt-child-sulk mode, for a short while. It was a long time since I'd seen her pull that act and I found it strangely humorous. I gathered the act had been inspired by my refusal to join-in the photo shoot.
"Oh well if that's going to be your attitude, I'm going to find the bar!" Was all I had to say, to bring Megan's sham protest to a swift end.
"You so much as dare and I'll..." Megan retorted.
"And you'll do what, Megan?" I asked.
"I'm not sure ... Kiss you maybe! I always wanted to do that, but I never had the nerve."
I had always been aware that Shona's little sister had held a candle for me, but I was surprised to hear Megan imply that she was still carrying that torch.
"My god, Megan. I'd have thought you'd have grown out of silly teenage crushes years ago."
"Oh I did. I even found what I thought was 'the man of my dreams'. But I soon discovered that all that glitters is not gold ... and what you see isn't always what you end-up with. It was only after I divorced the bugger that I realised exactly what my sister had so carelessly discarded."
"I'm not at all sure that I understand what you were trying to say there, Megan."
"Good, a confused man is a safe one!" She grinned, "Lets go, it looks like they're sitting down to eat!"
The top table was inordinately long and Megan and "her guest" had originally been positioned someway down the pecking order. Although The Witch had rearranged things, I'd reversed her changes, much to the old bitch's confusion. Great fun as far as I was concerned. The Witch appeared to accept my rearrangement without protest, but she threw me a withering glance.
Albert was seated beside Megan. "I thought Hyacinth..." He began to comment, as we arrived at our respective places.
"I thought that her original plan would prove a little more diplomatic, sir." I interrupted him.
"Capital capital, I always knew Hyacinth had misjudged you, my lad. Anyway you will drop the formality please; I'm Bertie to family!"
Through most of the meal Albert monopolised me as far as conversation was concerned. All-but ignoring everyone else sitting nearby – including his wife, but with the exception of Megan who was seated between us – he spent almost the whole meal asking me probing questions about my travels. I almost felt like I was in a witness box. Well, he was a highfalutin barrister who was accustomed to cross-examining people.