A more than professional interest . . . a more than personal intrigue.
Orlando Coppersmith should be happy. WWI is almost a year in the past, he’s back at St. Bride’s College in Cambridge, his lover and best friend Jonty Stewart is at his side again, and—to top it all—he’s about to be made Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics. And although he and Jonty have precious little time for an investigative commission, they can’t resist a suspected murder case that must be solved in a month so a clergyman can claim his rightful inheritance.
But the courses of scholarship, true love, and amateur detecting never did run smooth. Orlando’s inaugural lecture proves almost impossible to write. A plagiarism case he’s adjudicating on turns nasty with a threat of blackmail against him and Jonty. And the murder investigation turns up too many leads and too little hard evidence.
Orlando and Jonty may be facing their first failure as amateur detectives, and the ruin of their professional and private reputations. Brains, brawn, the pleasures of the double bed—they’ll need them all to lay their problems to rest.
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice–like managing a rugby team–she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she’s making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She’s even been known to write about gay werewolves–albeit highly respectable ones.
She was named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name but her family still regard her writing with a fond indulgence, just as she prefers.
Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.
“I am standing still.”
“You aren’t. You’re jiggling about like a cat after a pigeon.” Jonty Stewart made a final adjustment to Orlando Coppersmith’s tie, then stood back to admire his efforts. “I think that’s passable.”
“You should wear your glasses, then you wouldn’t have to go back so far. You can’t use that old excuse about your arms getting shorter so you have to hold the paper farther away.” Orlando turned to the mirror, the better to appreciate the perfectly tied knot. “Faultless. Thank you.”
The hallway of Forsythia Cottage benefited from the full strength of the morning sun through the windows and fanlight, enough for even the vainest creatures to check every inch of their appearance in the mirror before they sauntered out onto Madingley Road. Still, what would the inhabitants of Cambridge say to see either Jonty or Orlando less than immaculate, especially on a day such as this?
“It’s as well you had me here to help, or else you’d have disgraced yourself and St. Bride’s with it.” Jonty smiled, picking at his friend’s jacket. If there were any specks on it, Orlando had to know they were far too small for Jonty to see without his glasses. “I’m so proud of you. Professor Coppersmith. It will have a lovely ring to it.”
Orlando nodded enthusiastically, sending a dark curl springing rebelliously up, a curl that needed to be immediately flattened, although even the Brilliantine he employed recognised it was fighting a losing battle.
His hair might have been distinctly salt and pepper, but he was still handsome, lean but not angular, nor running to fat like some of his contemporaries. He’d turned forty when the Great War still had a year to run, so there was a while yet before he hit the half century. Jonty was a year closer to that milestone and never allowed to forget it. “I won’t believe it until I see the first letter addressed to me by that title.”
“Conceit, thy name is Coppersmith.” Jonty nudged his friend aside and attended to his own tie. Silver threads lay among his own ruddy-gold hair now, and the blue eyes were framed with fine lines. He knew he could still turn a few heads and young women told him he was handsome. If the young women concerned were his nieces . . . well, that didn’t invalidate their opinions.
Orlando snorted. “Conceit? That’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.” He slicked back his hair again, frowning.
“You seem unusually pensive, even for the new Forster Professor of Mathematics.” Jonty stopped his grooming, turned, and drew his hand down Orlando’s face, remapping familiar territory. Coppersmith and Stewart. Stewart and Coppersmith. They went together like Holmes and Watson, Hero and Leander, or strawberries and cream. Colleagues, friends, lovers, and amateur detectives, they were partners in every aspect of their lives, and neither of them entirely sure whether the detection or the intimacy was the most dangerous part.
“I was just thinking how sad it is that neither your parents nor my grandmother are here today.” Orlando fiddled with his tiepin, at which Jonty slapped his hand away and straightened the offending object once more.
“Leave that alone. I’d only just got it right.” Jonty stuffed a hat into Orlando’s hands—not the one he was going to wear today, but one he could twist nervously to his heart’s content, with no damage done. “Perhaps it’s as well they’re not here for your inaugural lecture. They might have had to put on a magnificent act to cover their boredom. Computable numbers? Hardly the stuff of gripping entertainment.” Jonty smiled, trying to keep his lover’s spirits up. He knew how deeply Orlando still felt the horrible series of losses he’d suffered during the years of the Great War.
So many people he’d been close to, now gone; it had left a gap in his life that Jonty knew even he couldn’t entirely fill. Not that, as Orlando swore, he loved Jonty any the less—nor, as Orlando frequently said, was there any less of him to love. The reports of the college veterans’ rugby matches still referred to him as a little ball of muscle, and Orlando said he was beautiful beyond the power of words or numbers—even imaginary ones—to describe. Both of which were nice, if perhaps biased, compliments.
“Thank you for your vote of confidence.” Orlando ruffled his lover’s hair, grinning smugly as Jonty scurried back to the mirror to begin priddying again.
“My pleasure. I’m looking forward to the lecture, of course. I’ve a list of keywords that I’ll tick off as they come. If I get them all, I’ll win five quid off Dr. Panesar.”
“Does he have a list as well? Does everyone?” When they’d first met, Orlando would have been thrown into a panic at such a statement. Now he was older, wiser, and alive to Jonty’s attempts to make game of him. “And do I get a cut of the proceeds? I’d write my lecture specifically to help out the highest bidder.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll start the bidding.” Jonty leaned forward and kissed Orlando as tenderly as when they’d first been courting. “That’s the deposit. You can guess what constitutes the rest of the payment.” He was pleased when Orlando, visibly happier, returned the kiss; he couldn’t let Orlando succumb to melancholy now. The man might start blubbing through his inauguration.
“Oh, Lord, look at my hair!” The romantic interlude earned Orlando a return to the mirror to repair the damage to his coiffure. “No more of those before the big event, thank you.”
“We’re not turning into a pair of sissies, are we? I don’t ever remember spending as much time in front of a looking glass, not even when I was in my twenties.” Jonty resisted the temptation to have another glance at his reflection.
“This is an occasion without precedent. We can take as long as we want. You said it was a matter of the college’s honour—surely we can’t have people thinking St. Bride’s is inhabited by scarecrows!” Inhabited by old duffers, eccentrics, and a pair of amateur detectives who had the habit of getting their names into The Times, certainly. “Anyway, make the most of that kiss. There may be no more forthcoming before I give my lecture.”
“That’s hardly the spirit I expect, Orlando. If I were ever to gain a Chair in Tudor Literature or some such wonderful thing, I’d insist on regular romantic activity to fortify and inspire me. A man can’t live by hair pomade and computation alone.” Jonty made good the knot in his lover’s tie for what seemed the umpteenth time. “How far have you got with your first draft, by the way?”
“First draft? At this rate, it’ll never get written. Too many distractions. You being at the top of the list.” Orlando screwed up his face. “Perhaps I should simply write it on the subject of ‘Equations quantifying the known nuisance values of Jonathan Stewart.’”
“That would be impossible to quantify, I’m afraid. Didn’t you tell me there are no numbers bigger than infinity?” Jonty pulled down his lover’s brow to reachable level, but had second thoughts about kissing it, just in case hair and tie both got mussed up again. “If you’re that distracted, we should deem it protocol to sleep in separate beds the next few nights. Then you could scribble away to your heart’s content.”
“It could be done. And the thought of resumption of bed sharing would be a positive incentive to get the wretched thing sorted out. I need something to give me the proverbial boot up the backside.” Orlando deliberately moved away from the mirror. “Right, that’s it. If I’m not fit for public view now, I never will be. Thank goodness it’s just the official bit today and the lecture’s all of a fortnight away.”
“At least that’ll give Lavinia the chance to buy a dress suitable for the occasion. She’s dragging her heels about getting the right outfit. Worse than you. And she’s almost as nervous as you are. Feels she’s representing all the Stewarts and has to be on her best behaviour.” Lavinia Broad, Jonty’s sister and the matriarch of the family now that their formidable mother had died, was developing into the role with surprising dignity and good sense.
“She’s bound to be better behaved than you, so everyone will be relieved.” Orlando smiled, a twinkle in his eye to show that he didn’t mean any—or at least much—of what he’d said.
“And you’ll have Antonio there, to represent your illustrious relatives.” Jonty took out his spectacles and gave them a special polish in honour of the occasion. Not that he intended to wear them. “He can sit next to Lavinia, looking proud and patriarchal.”
“At this point, I’m glad my grandmother had to change her name. Professor Artigiano del Rame sounds a bit pretentious. And they’d never manage to paint all of that on the sign at the bottom of the staircase at Bride’s. They had enough trouble with O’Shaughnessy.” Orlando made one final adjustment to his jacket, ignored Jonty’s whisper of I was right when I said ‘Vanity, thy name is Coppersmith,’ and turned to the door. “It shows you what a state I’m in that I don’t object to turning up in the metal monster. If I was quite myself, I’d have insisted on a horse-drawn cab.”
“The metal monster” was one of the kinder ways Orlando referred to whichever one in the procession of Jonty’s cars was currently standing outside the house, allegedly polluting the vicinity. Only the fact that one of the earlier incarnations had helped save Jonty’s life made the possession of an automobile tolerable, even if the current version was one that Orlando deemed deficient in the number of required wheels.
“You love it, really. Especially since we got the Morgan.” Jonty grabbed their academic gowns, opened the front door, and ushered his lover through it. “Come on, let’s get the bride to the altar.”
“Not the analogy I’d have chosen, but it’ll do. Lead on, Macduff.”
“Lay on, Macduff, you mean. You’re worse than the dunderheads at times.” He closed the door behind them and took a deep breath of the autumn air. “It’s going to be a glorious day, in more ways than one.” As they reached the car, he dropped his voice to barely a whisper. “That moratorium on my bed doesn’t have to start until tomorrow. Only don’t think about that fact while you’re being inaugurated or invested or installed or whatever it is they’re about to do to you, as you won’t look very good in the photographs with a lascivious grin all over your gob.”