5 – PICTURE PERFECT
My mood improves as Max and I wander through Cambridge towards the suburb of Chesterton. Through the overhanging trees that line the road on either side, dappled sunlight blinks through, warming my neck. I wish I could have brought Spock along but he can't accompany us on this mission.
'Remind me again how visiting Grant Fitzpatrick's sister is going to help us find the Calix Puritatis?' Max says.
'There's more to Grant's message than we're assuming,' I reply. 'I think he was closer to finding the chalice than we give him credit for. I want to get to know him a bit more, find out about his last movements. Maybe that will shed some light on the chalice.'
'And is visiting Grant's twin the reason why you've done your hair differently?' Max probes.
I touch my pigtail bunches nervously. I'm not really a pigtail kind of girl, and my hair is certainly too wild to be subservient enough to be coaxed into plaits, so usually I let it do what it likes (which is stick out on end like an eighties rockstar), but today there's a reason for the extra effort.
'You'll see,' I tell Max.
We turn down a quiet side street of beautiful Victorian townhouses whose white-washed walls gleam in the sunshine.
'If she lives here then she's certainly not short of money,' says Max, eyeing all the expensive cars lining the street.
'Pity she didn't share it with her brother then, if Grant was having cashflow problems.'
We walk up to an emerald green door with a ram's head brass knocker that, when I lift it to knock, reveals a wolf's head beneath. I shudder.
Moments later, a voice calls out, 'Who is it?'
'Miss Fitzpatrick?' I yell through the door. 'My name is Noa. I'd like to speak to you if you've a moment.'
The door opens and a woman, looking the feminine version of Grant, stands before me. She's scruffier though. Her hair is tousled and sun-bleached, unlike Grant who was meticulously groomed. Her wardrobe is also different. Jules Fitzpatrick wears a t-shirt stained with paint smudges and faded jeans. But she has the same facial features and is tall like her twin.
'Yes?' She wipes her hands on a grubby flannel, but her palms and fingernails are still stained with paint. Although I didn't pay much attention to Grant's hands, I'd have expected them to be scrubbed clean and manicured. I put on my sweetest shyest schoolgirl smile. 'Hi, I'm doing a school project on archaeology and I wanted to pay tribute to your brother Grant. So…' I cock my head slightly to best show off the cuteness of my pigtail bunches. '…I was wondering, if it's not too much trouble, whether you'd mind chatting to me about him?'
Jules considers me for a minute, an easy smile on her lips. 'Sure. Why not?' she says at last. 'Come on in.'
Jules leads us into a large open-plan living room and conservatory area. Sunshine pouring through the glass walls of the conservatory keeps it bright and an overhead fan dispels the pervading smell of paint chemicals hanging in the air. I glimpse an artist's easel with a painting of some sort of building on it in the conservatory part of the room.
'I see she's a fan of her own work,' says Max, gesturing to the paintings hanging on the walls. Each bears the signature J Fitz.
'Your paintings – they're very good,' I say in Jules's defence.
Jules breaks into a broad grin like I'm the first person ever to say so. 'Why, thank you.'
'And has an extraordinary amount of mirrors,' continues Max with a raised eyebrow.
I ignore what he's insinuating.
'Would you like a drink?' Jules offers. 'It's hot out there.'
'If it's not too much trouble.'
'Not at all. I was just about to take a break anyway.'
She leads the way into a smart modern kitchen and takes a carton out of the fridge. She sloshes an inch into two glasses then pauses. 'Is it midday yet?'
'Just, it's ten past,' I say, checking my watch.
Jules's eyes twinkle with mischief. 'Would you like something stronger in that then?'
I hear Max tut behind me.
'Er – just juice is fine, thanks,' I say.
Jules shrugs and finishes pouring. She then takes an ice-tray from the freezer, pauses to look at her dirty hands. 'Sorry, would you mind? I don't want to poison us.'
'Of course.' I step forward and pick out a few cubes of ice.
'Cheers,' says Jules, raising her glass.
We chink glasses and I can already feel myself liking Jules. She's so relaxed and easy-going, and she obviously has Grant's charm.
'Come through and we can chat all you like. I have some photos too if they'd help your project?'
'That would be amazing.' Actually, I don't know how amazing it really would be, but I am pleased she's being so helpful.
We sit in the living room on comfortable couches. Max remains standing, wandering around, looking critically at the paintings and framed photographs lining the tables and mantelpieces. I notice most of them feature Jules herself.
Max passes by our host's seat and a small frown flits across Jules's face. She gets up again to turn down the overhead fan. 'It's cooler in here than I expected.'
I glance Max's way and try not to blush.
'So, what would you like to know?' she says, taking her seat again. 'What is this project about?'
I ready myself for the story I've been concocting since this morning and try to make it as unrehearsed as possible. 'Well, we have to choose a subject then we have to profile someone in that line of work – someone well known. I got some stuff off the Internet, but I don't like to believe everything I read –'
'So, you shouldn't,' Jules says agreeably.
'Plus, it's always nice to get a more personal viewpoint of the person.'
'Absolutely. I wish I'd been more dedicated to my studies when I was your age. My dyslexia didn't help either. The only class I ever paid any attention in was Art.' She pauses then pulls an undecided face. 'Actually, on second thoughts, maybe I don't wish that. I rather enjoy my life as it is. No regrets.' She beams at me, good-natured.
I can imagine her being a popular but cheeky student, clever enough to know how to get herself out of trouble with the teachers.
I try to appear bashful, not quite meeting her eye. 'I did see some of your work online before I got here. You're very good.'
Jules glows. 'Thank you. I've been doing it a long time now.'
Sensing Jules rather enjoys her ego being polished, I dare to flatter her even more. 'Not that long surely. If I didn't already know you were Grant's twin, I'd say you were his much younger sister.'
Jules laughs but doesn't contradict me. 'Grant was the brains of the family. And I was… well, you should see pictures of our mother. She was a stunner, a proper classic beauty. Lived the rather dull life of a historian in a stuffy Cambridge college, but she still had the guys falling at her feet in her day.'
'And your father?'
'A pilot,' replies Jules. 'Sounds so dashing, doesn't it? When Grant and I were kids, we would go on holidays to North Africa with our folks – I guess that's where Grant's interest in archaeology developed. Then our dad was killed in an accident when we were twelve – not in a plane crash, but a bicycle crash, can you believe it? Came off and hit his head. Wasn't wearing a helmet.'
'I'm sorry,' I say, genuinely. I know what it's like to lose a parent so young.
Jules shakes her head and shrugs. 'C'est la vie, right?'
'You say Grant got into archaeology in North Africa?'
'Yeah, at least in part. They've got all those pharaoh tombs and ancient civilisations there, haven't they? Not really my thing, to be honest. Historical art, now that's a different matter. Take me to an art museum and I'll be your captive audience all day long, but I don't have the energy to sit in the hot sun dusting off old bones and broken pottery with a toothbrush.'
I have to stop myself from digging too deep too quickly; I think of Grant dusting off ancient relics with a toothbrush and try to do the same with Jules. I mightn't be any closer to learning the whereabouts of the Calix Puritatis yet, but I am learning a bit more about what kind of person Grant was. 'You mentioned your mother was a historian too,' I say. 'Presumably, she was interested in those sorts of things?'
'Of course. She encouraged us both to take an interest in the past, to respect it and conserve it. It's why I do what I do, I suppose, restoring paintings,' she says gesturing around her. 'In fact, Grant and I used to have a business, dealing in historical art and artefacts. But that was years ago.'
'What happened to it?'
Jules shrugs, her charming persona slipping for a second. 'It closed down. See, it wasn't just us two. Grant's… friend from university days, Ross, was also a partner.'
My ears prick up at the name and even Max starts to pay attention.
'Yeah, I guess you've heard of him since they ran The Big Dig together before Grant died. It's no wonder what happened, happened. Ross could drive anyone to suicide.'
Max and I exchange discreet glances. He abandons his investigative nosing around the room and comes to sit on the arm of my couch to listen to our conversation.
'You didn't get on with Ross?' I prompt Jules.
She shakes her head. 'He's a two-faced – oh, there's no polite way to say it. A douchebag. Had no idea how to run a successful business. He was always off doing his own thing, doing things he thought would turn a profit. Pah!'
She hesitates and looks at me with more wariness, and I bite my cheek for pushing too hard. I look down and take a leisurely sip of my drink to break the intensity of the moment.
It does the trick. 'Just stuff, stuff which we disagreed on,' says Jules. 'There was no "partnership" in it.'
I can't help but be intrigued by this different side to the Ross I met, and it reinforces our original suspicions of him. 'Did Grant get on with Ross?' I ask.
'Grant was a lot more tolerant than me.' There is a hint of a sneer in her voice. 'But then again, he and Ross shared a lot of the same interests in archaeology. I was more into the arts than the artefacts.'
'So, the business closed because you didn't get on?'
Jules gives me another wary look, and I curse myself for pushing too hard.
I give her my most sympathetic look. 'It must have been so disappointing for you.'
With a sympathetic audience, Jules's confidence is bolstered and she continues her gripe. 'I left long before that. But, what with our different "business plans", shall we say,' she says, air quoting the words, 'it was doomed from the start. Let's leave it at that.'
'Of course,' I say, averting my eyes like the shy schoolgirl I'm supposed to be. 'Sorry, I didn't mean to pry.'
Jules's good humour returns and she cracks a smile and winks at me. 'No need to apologise. I get cranky when I talk about Ross, that's all.'
I wait a beat, wondering if we've warmed up enough to move on with my true mission. 'Did Grant ever mention the Calix Puritatis?' I venture.
Jules cocks her head to one side. 'If that's the magic cup that he spent his life chasing after, then yes.'
'You don't believe it existed?'
Jules laughs. 'I don't know. It sounds all a bit too Indiana Jones, don't you think? Grant loved that sort of thing. All those myths and legends. It wouldn't surprise me if he kept a fedora hat and whip hidden away for special occasions.'
'Can you recall when he last spoke of it?'
'I don't know,' says Jules, not pausing to even think. 'He was always going on about it. You tune out after a while.' She catches sight of my disappointment and hesitates. 'I suppose the last time I remember him mentioning it was when he was trying to get funding for a new dig. He didn't say where, but…' A frown creases her forehead.
'Well, he sounded really excited about it. But then he always got really excited about possible leads,' she continues, fobbing off her own suspicions. 'They never amounted to anything, mind. And I suppose he knew it really, because he went and bought a house instead.' She looks at me with a 'go figure' expression. 'The dig couldn't have been that important if he was able to raise funds for a house instead of the dig, now, could it?'
I shrug, and try to appear appeasing. I honestly have no idea. It does sound a little odd that Grant should spend money on buying a new house if he was desperate for dig money.
'Anyway,' says Jules with a sigh. 'In the end, he just gave himself too much to do.'
'His and Ross's business, The Big Dig, was close to bankruptcy. That Time Trap TV show was finished, so he wasn't earning any money or getting exposure from that anymore. He and Ross were always battling to raise funds for their next dig. Plus, he was working on renovations for the new house. It must have just been too much for him.' She shakes her head and looks sadly down at the floor, blinking back tears.
My heart goes out to her. Jules is far from perfect but she obviously loved her brother, her twin.
'Are you okay talking about this?' I ask.
She looks up again and puts a brave smile back on her face. 'Of course.'
'You sure it's not too upsetting?'
Jules sinks the last of her drink and smiles reassuringly. 'I'm made of tougher stuff. Grant's death was obviously very upsetting at the time. The worst was having to clear out all his things. So many memories.' She shakes her head nostalgically. 'His death was just so out of the blue. I'd been planning to go have a drink with him that evening, then the police came round and said he'd been found earlier that day. Just like that.' Jules snaps her paint-stained fingers. 'One minute he's alive in your mind and you're thinking of all the things you want to tell him over a drink, the next he's dead, gone forever and you'll never get to tell him those things.'
She sighs and her eyes glitter with unshed tears. I feel genuinely bad for upsetting her.
'I'm sorry. I don't want to upset you. Maybe I should go now.'
'No, no,' Jules rushes. 'You haven't finished your juice yet and I haven't shown you any of Grant's photos. I've got an entire album of our holidays in Egypt and Tunisia.'
She gets up and opens a wall cupboard and pulls out a volume from a stack of photo albums. She opens it on the glass table between us and points to a page showing four photos of two skinny children, browned by the African sun, their hair bleached blond, posing in front of the Pyramids beside a pleasant looking man, presumably their father, and a gorgeous woman wearing big dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Jules was a bit of a tomboy it would seem.
She turns the page to more photos of them posing in front of ancient monuments or riding on camels. 'It came as such a shock because he loved life so much. His whole career was dedicated to unearthing life, revealing buried secrets, bringing the old back to life… At first I couldn't believe he'd taken his own life.'
'You and us both,' murmurs Max, studying the photos.
'You thought someone else had something to do with it?' I ask tentatively. I can't help it but my thoughts stray to Ross, the business partner who liked to do things 'his way'.
Jules shrugs. 'Sure. I guess I was in denial, looking for someone to blame. But in the end, we had to accept the evidence. He'd left a note.'
I bite my lip. I'm dying to ask what the note said, but I don't feel quite brave enough to ask. It's not my business, and it's certainly not business I'd need to know for my fabled school project.
Jules turns another page. 'He'd said he couldn't go on anymore, that he'd met with so many failures there wasn't any point in carrying on.'
The details sound vague, a stereotypical suicide note if you ask me, perfect for a forgery.
'I read he poisoned himself. Is that right?'
'Yeah.' Jules gulps. She's having trouble thinking about it, I can tell. 'Some chemical called cadmium, I don't know. Apparently, you find it in batteries. Very toxic.'
'I'm so sorry.' Genuinely, I am. It doesn't sound a pleasant way to die at all, be it suicide or murder.
'Yeah, me too,' she says quietly.
With Jules promising to make copies of the photos for me, I get ready to depart. I glance at the painting on the easel that I glimpsed on the way in. There is a colour palate on a table beside it, alongside a tuft of paintbrushes in a grubby cup presumably for rinsing and mixing. I see now that the painting is of a very grand church.
'I like your painting there. It's very good,' I say, trying to lift Jules's spirits.
She pauses to look at it. 'Thanks. I'd like to take the credit but actually I'm restoring it.' Her modesty makes me rethink Jules's high opinion of herself. 'It's supposedly a church in Ely, about fifteen miles from here. Have you been?'
I nod. 'School trips.'
Jules grins. 'Your school sounds a lot more fun than mine was. This church doesn't exist today, mind you,' she continues, gesturing to the painting. 'I couldn't find it. But I liked the challenge it presented.'
'Is it done by someone famous?'
Jules laughs. 'No, or maybe it is, I don't know. It's not signed so I don't know who painted it originally.' Her mobile rings and she gives me a regretful look. 'Sorry, I'm going to have to take this.'
'Of course,' I say, hurrying along to the door. 'Thanks so much for chatting with me and telling me about Grant.'
Jules opens the door for me and waves me through. 'My pleasure. Glad to have helped. Good luck with your project and I'll be in touch about those photos. Bye.'
She gives me a small wave as I step outside and she closes the front door, answering her phone at the same time. 'Hi, Ted. Sorry about that. Had a visitor…'
I stand on the step for a moment longer, looking at the creepy ram-wolf door knocker and it makes me wonder if Ross is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Jules certainly wasn't a fan of his. She'd said he had his own ideas about how to run a successful business. Yet she wouldn't say if his practices had been illegal. Did she have to? Wasn't it what she was implying though? My feelings harden against Ross, how he's taken advantage of Grant, being the amiable person he was.
Max drifts through the door the next moment, looking creeped out. 'Eurgh,' he says, brushing down his shoulders. 'I hate going through things. You'd think she'd at least wait until we were all out before closing the door.'
I catch Max's teasing smile. 'Come on. We've got work to do.'
Copyright © H.R. Aidan, 2017