“Miss Michelle Rosemont is coming today to photograph the grounds of the estate for the May issue of Historic Hazelton
“Oh, damn the hell, yes, I forgot all about it. Edwards, can you be a dear a handle it for me?I haven’t the stomach for schmoozing with an American photographer today, when I have all this dead Greta mess to deal with.I don’t feel like chatting.And I hate painters in the house.They’re messy and smelly.And noisy.And talk about noisy, hardwood floor refinishers with their power equipment, my head will ache for a week after they are done.Do you think we could find one who doesn’t use power equipment?”
“So, you would like one quiet man, preferably a mute, who uses only sandpaper?”
“Yes, Edwards, that would be lovely! Could you?” Mr. MacKalvey perked up.
“I’ll make some phone calls, sir, and see what I can find to suit you.”
“Thank you, Edwards.”
“Ah, sir? You also invited Miss Rosemont to have lunch with you here at the estate when she was finished. I think you shall have to chat and schmooze, just a little.”
“Lunch? Chat? Schmooze? LUNCH? I did? Yes, I did, I remember now. Oh, no!”
“Yes, sir, that was before Greta so rudely offed herself, without giving any consideration to your ever-expanding social calendar.”
“This is such a major inconvenience! What on earth would possess me to do such a thing?”
“I don’t know, sir. It seemed so very out of character for you at the time, I almost doubted your sanity. It was so… social.”
“What in heaven’s name was I thinking?”
“I have NO idea, sir.”
“We have no cook. Well, just tell her… tell her I’m… ill,” said Mr. MacKalvey with a dismissive wave, turned, and went upstairs to his suite and closed the door.
A few hours later, the doorbell rang and Mr. MacKalvey heard the lilt of a female voice in the house. He crept to the top of the stairs where he could hear everything, but still remain hidden. Lovely voice. He remembered her voice from their phone conversation. He knew that voice. It made him smile. Pleasant. Cheerful. Silken. But from where? That voice, THAT’S what made him invite her to lunch, the sound of her voice. He wanted to hear more of it. Damn siren’s call. It compelled him. She was probably horrendously ugly and shaped like a manatee.
“Miss Rosemont, I am so very sorry to inform you that Mr. MacKalvey is very ill and will not be able to join you for lunch, but I could fix you a bowl of shredded wheat and a cup of tea if you wish, because our cook is just dead.”
“No, please don’t worry about lunch. I’m not hungry. But I am so terribly disappointed! I was so looking forward to meeting the wonderful Kenneth MacKalvey.”
“You were? Why on earth?”
“Something about that man fascinates me, Bernard.”
Kenneth MacKalvey leaned his head back on the door and gave a little smile as he listened to the conversation. That sweet, lovely voice… saying sweet, lovely things. About him!
“You’ve got to be joking,” Edwards said with a laugh.
“No, Bernard, I’m not. I only agreed to do this photo shoot out here in the middle of nowhere so I could get to meet him. I’m really disappointed that he’s ill. I do hope it’s nothing serious.”
“Oh, I’m afraid it is. Terminal, in fact. Have you heard about his reputation?”
“His reputation? As an author? Or as an art critic, you mean?”
“Ah, yes. That’s the one I mean.”
“Well, I heard he could be a little harsh at times. But I’ve read every book and article he’s written that I could lay my hands on, and I love the way he writes. I love his choice of words, the way he weaves in nuances and undertones, always completely proper, but with whispers of deep, white-hot passion hidden just beneath the surface, laced with longing, regret, and unspoken desire. It has movement as natural as the ebb and flow of the tides. Sometimes it’s like a warm, bittersweet dance with your former boyfriend on his wedding day to a really nice girl. And sometimes, it’s more like a telepathic orgasm with a total stranger across the room, sizzling, white hot, overpowering, wild, crazy, blissful, quivering, flushed, standing in a crowded room, with no one else around you having any idea of what just happened. You gulp hard and lick your lips. No evidence. And then, from across the room, you see him. He raises one eyebrow, with just the faintest smile. Ahhh!”
Kenneth MacKalvey felt himself blush. His heart was racing. Finally, someone who understood the height, the width, and the depth of the emotion in his work and actually appreciated it. Most people didn’t get it at all.
“No, no, my dear, this is KENNETH MacKalvey we’re talking about.”
“Yes, yes, I know. Kenneth. He’s so multi-layered!”
“Like an onion, you mean?”
“And so insightful!”
“Really? James MacAdoon reckoned Mr. MacKalvey’s treatment of him was more like a public flogging.” Kenneth MacKalvey stiffened and held him breath. Why would Edwards bring that up now?
“Oh, Jimmy MacAdoon is as overly-sensitive as they come. He cries easily. I’VE made him cry, and I’m a gentle soul. Scottish men are unreasonably hard on themselves and each other,” she said with a giggle. “They hold themselves and their male countrymen up to unbelievably high standards on conduct and accomplishment. That’s why they as a group have made such terrific contributions to society in general. Cloning. Engineering. Banking. Golf. Tennis. William McKinley. Alexander Graham Bell. Charles MacIntosh, the raincoat. Highway surfacing, John MacAdams. Steam engine, James Watt. John Boyd Dunlop, tires. Postage stamps, John Chalmers. Kirkpatrick MacMillan, the bicycle. James MacGregor, bleach. John Logie Baird, the television. John Paul Jones, the U.S.Navy. Sir Robert Watson Watt, radar. John Napier, logarithms, Alexander Fleming, penicillin. James Young Simpson, anesthetics. Shall I go on? They just need a little extra attention every once in a while, and they’re just fine.”
Kenneth MacKalvey rushed to his room, changed his shirt, combed his hair, and put on a little cologne, all of a sudden craving a little attention from this obviously intelligent, gentle and kind woman, even if she were very homely. Looks are highly over-rated in today’s society. An ugly woman can still be a great companion when she’s this intellectual and perceptive, and appreciates a man of his caliber and distinction. He casually strolled down the hallway and the staircase.
“Oh, Edwards! I’m suddenly feeling much better. Is Miss Rosemont still about? Edwards? Edwards!” No answer. He heard a car door shut and looked out the window just in time to see a black Nissan sedan pulling down the driveway, and Edwards waving her off.
“The coast is clear,” Edwards said entering the house. “The American has left the building. You are safe from schmoozing, sir,” said Bernard when he came back in the house.
“What was she like, Edwards?” Kenneth asked hesitantly.
“Blue jeans. Trainers. Big camera.”
“Yes, but what was she like?”
“Very Nice. Pleasant. Sunny. You would have just hated her, sir.”
“Thank you, Edwards. Yes, I’m sure I would have just hated her.” Kenneth MacKalvey went back upstairs and sulked.
“Mish, how did it go with Genghis Khan?” asked Tessa, the project manager at the magazine office and Michelle’s best friend.
“Extremely disappointing, Tessa. He’s sick. His butler says he’s terminal.”
“Oh, that’s bullshit! There’s nothing wrong with that nasty old fart, he was probably feeling his usual aristocratic, snobby, antisocial self today. I can’t see why you like him. I was really surprised when he agreed to the photo shoot over the phone in the first place, and thrown for a loop when he invited you to have lunch with him at MacKalvey House afterward. Moira has been trying to get a photographer inside that estate for years. He is known for being arrogant, overbearing, and just plain difficult. My auntie hates him!”
“Auntie Loretta? Aunt Loretta loves everybody and feeds everybody. She’s such a wonderful woman. She couldn’t hate a soul.”
“Well, she hates Kenneth MacKalvey. Never mention his name when she has something sharp in her hand, or when she’s driving,” Tessa warned.
“Why? He was so sweet and pleasant over the phone. I can’t imagine him being mean. He has such a wonderful voice, Tessa. And I love the way he writes. I…”
“Yes, and ‘Mr. Sweet and Pleasant’ with the wonderful voice stood you up. Your little crush stood you up, Mish. And he’s not dying, and I doubt he’s even sick. This is the first time in your life you ever got stood up, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and I wanted this, Tessa, to meet him, spend some time with him, talk to him, or just listen to him talk.”
“Welcome to the real world, amica mia, where men are jerks who lie to us, cheat on us, treat us badly, and stand us up. All they want from us is non-stop sex and no conversation.”
“I can deal with that last part. You think Moira could talk Kenneth MacKalvey into having some non-stop sex and no conversation with me?”
“Moira has a whole book full of British gentlemen who might agree to that arrangement, but I doubt Kenneth MacKalvey’s on the list. She doesn’t like him either. Nobody around here likes him, Mish. Are you sure you want to meet him? You know what they say, never meet your heroes.”
“Oh, Tess, he was wonderful on the phone, so warm, and sweet. I felt like I knew him from somewhere else,” she said dreamily, “and knew him very well.”
“That’s it! You got the wrong number. Believe me, there is not a soul in the UK who would use the words wonderful, warm, or sweet to describe Kenneth MacKalvey. He’s mean, opinionated, nasty, and arrogant. Forget it, Mish, forget him. He’s bad news. Come on, let’s fill in the blanks on next week’s schedule before Moira comes back to the office. You have your choice. Yet another Keefer Square shoot or some castle ruins out past Hanover House?”
“He’s not, Tess. I know it,” Michelle said softly “And I can’t forget him. Um, the castle ruins. Definitely.”
“Okay. A hunt in Moreland or some lovely cottages in the valley.”
“Horses make me rash up and sneeze and itch. The Cotswolds look-alikes.”
“That’s right, the horse thing. Okay. The little church on the corner of Howell and Lavelle or ponds in the countryside.”
“Both! The church won’t take long and I love sloshing around in the mud pondside. I’ll bring my Wellies.”
“Okay. You’re going to be busy. I hope the weather cooperates with you. I’ll print out copies of this, one for Moira, one for you, and one for me, so I know where I sent you. Okay, we’re done here.”
“No worries. I make my own sunshine. Let’s go grab some lunch. I haven’t eaten. Remember, the evil Ken doll stood me up.” They both laughed.
“That fits him so well! The evil Ken doll. I can’t. I’m not supposed to leave the phone unattended.”
“Oh, come on, Tessa, who’s going to call us? This phone never rings. Personally I’ve never heard it ring. I think it lost its ring ability.”
“You’re right. Who would call us anyway? Well, okay, but we have to be back before Moira comes in at two o’clock.” Michelle nodded and they left the office.
They closed and locked the door.
A moment later the phone rang.
Kenneth MacKalvey heard the magazine office phone ring and ring, but no one answered it. There was no answering service or machine where he could leave a message for her to return his phone call. And he wanted to do this now, before he lost confidence and talked himself out of calling her to convince her to reschedule their lunch together. It would have to be somewhere in town because he still hadn’t found a new cook. He had no idea how else to reach her.