Polly found the small stack of notes in the old bureau they’d brought over from the mill before the sale had gone through. She wasn’t prying, she told herself, before turning the tiny key in the lock and lowering the drop-down desk. Books, papers, theatre programmes all spilled out, along with the small stack of notes, tied together with a red ribbon.
Perching on the arm of a nearby chair, she pulled on one end of the ribbon and let the separate sheets of paper slip lose. There were seven in all: writing paper, lined A4, graph paper, a couple of yellow Post-It notes, all in the same bold, cursive handwriting.
a banana! - you’re a genius! A
great night - hope your head’s better than mine! do it again sometime? A
abrupt exit last night - trust me once in a while? A
I owe you everything and more. Love ya, A
eternally glad I don’t need to be dead to have your attention :-) A
Amazing, isn't it? Maybe you'll make a true conjurer of me yet. Love you, A
of everything in my life, you’re what I couldn’t ever live without. I love you. A
She thought back over the list of past girlfriends Jonathan had told her about but couldn’t bring to mind any with the initial A. The only A she knew about in Jonathan’s life was Adam Klaus, and it couldn’t be him.
He still had the key to the mill. The sale had exchanged but was a couple of days from completion. It still technically belonged to him. He let himself in. He just wanted to say goodbye one last time. Five generations of his family had lived there. After five years on the market, there was a part of him that hadn’t believed it would ever sell. Once it had, it had all happened so fast he’d barely had time to consider how he felt about it before the contracts were being signed. The buyer - he’d never asked for a name, he’d never actually wanted to know - had offered the asking price. No negotiations required.
It was sold furnished, but even with the furniture still in place it felt empty, cold. Flicking the light switch at the base of the stairs brought on the bare bulb in the first floor lounge and illuminated the top of the wooden staircase. He was surprised to see his old pictures and posters lining the curved walls up there. He’d imagined the removal men would have taken them all down, had thought they were in the skip with the rest of his life BP. Before Polly.
Climbing to the first floor he stood in the centre of the lounge and looked around, seeing it not as it was but as it used to be. His old leather sofa slouched against the right hand wall, television opposite, standing on a crate left over from one of Adam’s shows. Books, tricks, magic paraphernalia filling in every available space, every shelf stocked, table top stacked. The mill had always been lived in, always been loved. In comparison, the house he shared with Polly felt remote, detached from them. Or at least from him.
Moving out hadn’t been difficult - greener grass and all that. But now he was back, he could only feel a deep-seated regret. It was too late to stop the sale now and he was strangely upset about that, as he hadn’t given it a second thought for the years the windmill had been on the market.
Unlocking and pushing open one of the wooden doors, he stepped out on to the veranda that circled the entire first floor. It was a beautiful day, ground frost turning the view white, clear blue sky, birds singing in the trees. Crossing to the railing he looked down at the empty driveway and remembered other mornings, years ago, standing in his robe with a mug of coffee in his hand, seeing the sun glinting off the frosted roof of a blue BMW parked below. Adam’s arms around him, mouth on the back of his neck, feelings of affectionate irritation strumming his nerves.
Not for the first time, he wondered where Adam was now, what he was doing and where he was doing it. They’d lost touch somehow. A long American tour had been the start of the end of their affair, after which they’d just grown apart. Still, there was and would always be a place in his heart for the magician he’d made great at a point on the graph of his once weird and wonderful life.
With a deep and heartfelt sigh, he went back inside and pulled the door closed, strolling across the lounge and only hesitating at the base of the steep wooden stairs which would have taken him up to the bedroom. Going up there was only going to make him more maudlin, so instead he went back down to the kitchen. He was about to leave when something caught his eye: a piece of paper stuck to the door of the refrigerator by a single magnet.
It was an A5 flyer for a venue in London - The Alderidge Studio in Temple - and a magic show - Adam Klaus Introduces….
He pulled the poster out from the grip of the magnet and stared at it. He couldn’t for the life of him fathom how it had got there. The dates on it were current - 2nd December 2016 to 2nd February 2017. At least he knew where Adam was now, what he was doing. He looked good on the shiny publicity shot. They’d presumably Photoshopped out any grey hairs and whitened his teeth to make the perfect grin. A few more lines, a bit less weight, but he didn’t look very different to the last time Jonathan had seen him, getting into the Rolls after a show in the East End; the days of them going back to Maskelyne Manor together long gone, the time of them collaborating together coming to a natural end.
The Alderidge Studio, Temple, London. So easy to get to by train. He could catch a local service to Paddington….
They were supposed to be moving on, he and Polly, tidying up their respective pasts to look towards their future. Going to London to see the show would be at the very least admitting he was having trouble letting go. It would be looking backwards instead of forwards. At least, that’s what he would be accused of. Still, he folded the flyer carefully into four and slid it into the back pocket of his jeans.
However hard he tried, it seemed, he was always going to be drawn to a mystery. The delivery from the mill had already unsettled him, but the attempt on his life and the decampment to Daemon’s Roost tipped him even further and he found himself searching for some balance, first in the solution to the mystery of the house, the hidden crypt and the magic behind Nathan Clore’s source material, then in the mystery of Stephen’s disappearance.
He found the flyer for Adam’s show still in the back pocket of his jeans, one afternoon in January, a few days after it was all wrapped up. The mill sale had completed. His old home was no longer his. He was feeling as if he’d been set adrift, mooring lines cut, so much of him wiped away. Seeing Adam again was at least a way of reaching back to touch his past, a past Polly had worked long and hard to erase.
The next day he told his wife he had a meeting in the city and arrived at The Alderidge Studio a few minutes after the box office opened. He got a ticket for the matinee and spent a couple of hours wandering the historic streets. He visited the Temple Church and tried not to let the butterflies in his stomach lead to throwing up his breakfast.
He had a beer in a little pub called The Old Bank but it did little to settle his nerves and he walked back to the venue forty minutes before curtain up. It was a small place; a tiny bar with a covered courtyard and a slate tiled corridor leading through to an intimate performance space. The stalls had six rows, the balcony four. Jonathan had chosen a seat in the upstairs back row, right in the corner, hoping he wouldn’t be seen from the stage, given the lights. He took a gin and tonic in a plastic cup through to the auditorium as soon as the doors opened and sat tapping his feet on the wooden boards, watching other arrivals search out their seats.
He and Polly went to the theatre often, to see plays and concerts. They took clients to the opera. He liked the culture, liked the experience of live performance, but bored easily. Sometimes, when he could, he took himself off to see mainstream illusionists like his modern heroes Penn & Teller, and the always entertaining Derren Brown. When he was able to get away, he snuck off to backstreet venues such as Simon Drake’s House of Magic, The Ivy House and the Grand Royale.
Nothing set his nerves alight and his heart racing like the anticipation of a great live magic show. He loved seeing what the new talent on the circuit was doing with the technology they had access to these days, particularly those doing close up magic. He kept a sketch book in which he designed new tricks using the most up to date props available. He never showed anyone. He probably never would. He’d considered selling them, once upon a time, but Polly would frown on such a sideline.
His plan was not to let Adam know he was ever there. Right up until the moment the lights went down and his old employer, friend and lover stepped into the spotlight.
Adam looked great. Wearing a simple dark blue suit and black shirt, he greeted the audience in the three-quarter full auditorium with a sincere and winning smile. This was the Adam Klaus behind the mask, before the performance. In the past, this was the Adam Klaus only a very few people had known. Now, it seemed, the mask was gone.
Adam explained quickly that he had three new, up and coming magicians to introduce to them that afternoon, before proceeding to borrow the mobile phone from a girl in the front row and making it appear in a balloon he blew up and popped right in front of her face.
It was smooth, seamless. Jonathan was impressed. Adam had always followed instructions to the letter, always been a good magician, but there was a calm to him now that had never been there when they were working together. Now that the performance was no longer about him, he seemed to shine in a way that Jonathan hadn’t seen him do before.
The new talent he introduced before the interval - a young man followed by a duo - was excellent. Two acts which Jonathan thought would go far. He stayed in his seat while most of the audience went to get a drink, he didn’t know if Adam would pop into the bar and didn’t want to risk it.
After the interval, Adam wowed the audience by producing a bottle of wine quite literally out of nowhere, pouring a couple of drinks for two women in the front row, inviting them to enjoy it a moment before making the liquid vanish from both glasses. Simple yet incredibly effective. Jonathan wondered who was designing his tricks now, and felt a moment of jealousy which was frankly beneath him.
The third act wasn’t, in Jonathan’s humble opinion, as good as the first two, but then he might have put it down to his worsening mood and increasing anxiety about the show ending and the decision he would have to make.
It was over before he realised. People were applauding and he added his appreciation to the ovation. Then the lights were up and the audience was filing out. After a few minutes’ hesitation, he followed them outside, standing on the pavement, staring at Adam’s face which stared back at him from a large poster in a frame on the wall next to the entrance.
‘Do you even want to see me?’ he murmured to the inanimate features he knew better than his own. Even after so much time, it was the most familiar sight in the world to him.
Turning away, a small, old fashioned sign caught his eye, pointing down a narrow alley next to the building; Stage Door. His legs were moving before he realised he’d taken the decision to go. Excitement was creeping over him, nerves jangling, worried Adam would blank him, worried he wouldn’t. The door was closed but he couldn’t have missed the performers leaving. So he leaned his back against the wall and waited.
The duo came out first, a girl and boy who looked like they were still in high school. They gave him a smile but didn’t for a moment think he was waiting for them. They would definitely go far, he decided. The other two left together a few minutes later, discussing where to go for lunch and not even noticing him.
He pushed away from the wall and walked to the fence across from the stage door. There was nothing to see, just overgrown bushes and evergreen trees. He touched the cold metal of the spear-topped railing as he heard the door behind him open again and turned to see Adam step from the narrow exit.
Their eyes met and locked.
‘Jonathan….’ He stared like he was questioning the evidence of his own sight.
‘You came.’ He took a step forward then stopped, uncertain. Jonathan wasn’t having that, not now he’d made the decision to do this. He covered the ground between them in three strides and they met in a tight, homecoming hug.
‘It is so good to see you again,’ Adam told him as they slowly untangled from one another.
‘You too. I love the show.’
‘You were in the audience?’ He sounded surprised.
‘At the back. They were excellent, the other three acts.’ Adam nodded. ‘You were flawless.’
‘Aw, you’re just saying that.’
Jonathan shook his head. ‘No, I mean it. Whoever you’re working with….’ He caught Adam’s wry smile and let the sentence trail off. ‘Sorry.’
‘Have you had lunch? Do you want to get something?’
They ended up at a small Italian restaurant above a pub just along from the studio. The waiter who greeted them obviously knew Adam and showed them to a table behind a trellis which separated it slightly from the rest of the small room.
Once seated, Adam ordered a bottle of red and asked for a carafe of water. They didn’t speak until the drinks turned up and their simple orders of two pasta dishes - Linguine Marvini for Jonathan, Seafood Linguine for Adam - had been taken. Then they were left alone, and Adam made a toast to old friends. Then the silence was back, but it was because neither of them knew what to say.
‘You got married,’ Adam pointed out eventually, brushing the lightest of fingertips over the gold that encircled Jonathan’s ring finger on his left hand.
He nodded. But he didn’t want to tell Adam about Polly. She was supposed to be his future, whereas Adam belonged to a life he was supposed to have left behind.
It wasn’t his fault that it kept pulling him back.
Adam was another part of who Jonathan used to be. Like mysteries. Like devious murderers.
‘You didn’t?’ Adam shook his head. ‘Couldn’t find the right person?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘You left me.’ He couldn’t help jumping on the defensive the way he always did.
‘You left long before I did.’
That was true, and at the time Jonathan had been certain his actions made sense. In distant retrospect, he couldn’t remember what his reasons had been, why he’d felt the need to free himself from all the people he’d loved, all the things he’d held dear.
Adam picked up his wine glass. ‘Have you seen Maddy recently? Or Joey?’
‘Maddy’s still in America. I saw Joey a couple of years ago. She seemed happy. I haven’t seen her recently. How about you? Do you see any of the old gang?’
They talked superficially until their food turned up, about the people they used to both know, staff who worked on the show, mutual acquaintances in the industry. The pasta was good and it was little wonder Adam ate there regularly. Along with the wine, it soothed Jonathan’s nerves and as he straightened his fork on the empty plate he realised he’d finally relaxed.
‘So, I’m basically a glorified MC for younger magicians,’ Adam admitted ruefully, although Jonathan thought he was underselling himself, given what he’d seen that afternoon. ‘What are you doing?’
‘I - we - run a media company Well, it’s her father’s company actually. We run the UK office.’
Adam almost choked on his wine. ‘You’re a business man?’
’Don’t sound so surprised.’
‘Not surprised. Shocked is closer to the mark. What about the magic? What about that fierce imagination that drove us both? What part does that play now?’
Jonathan couldn’t answer that. The truth was, it didn’t. His creative energies were confined to the sketch book he kept hidden in his office at home. He wanted to change the subject, even if it was to something else he didn’t want to talk about.
‘Who are you working with?’
Adam picked up his glass again. ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were jealous.’
He chose not to respond to that. ‘I still have a professional interest.’
‘I still love magic.’ It felt oddly good to say out loud.
‘Do you still dabble?’
‘Not for a long time. Too long.’
He emptied his glass in one swallow and Adam refilled it. ‘What happened, Jonathan?’
‘Honestly? I don’t know. But I’m sorry for leaving you.’
They walked side by side back to the studio, the silence between them as easy and comfortable as it had once been. Stopping back at the stage door, they stood facing each other and looking anywhere but forwards.
‘You know where I am now,’ Adam told him. ‘Please don’t be a stranger.’
‘I won’t. I promise.’
‘Her name’s Mel. She designs tricks for lots of magicians and illusionists, as well as for theatre companies. I work with her but that’s as far as it goes.’
Jonathan nodded, oddly relieved. ‘Thanks.’
‘I’ll see you soon.’
While Jonathan was out at his meeting in the city, Polly cleared away the breakfast dishes, hoovered the lounge, put some washing on, anything to keep herself busy. Since finding the notes in Jonathan’s bureau, she’d been unable to stop thinking about them, about ‘A’. Someone who’d loved Jonathan at one time. Someone Jonathan had thought enough of to keep the single line notes.
He’d said he’d be out until later in the afternoon. Enough time to have a rifle through the rest of the papers in that same bureau and see if there were any clues to the girlfriend Jonathan had chosen not to mention to her.
She momentarily wondered if she should be doing this, but he was her husband. Surely that meant she was simply showing an interest in him. It was enough for her and she unlocked the desk, careful as it came down. The majority of the papers were sketches; tricks, she assumed. There were pages torn from theatre programmes with notes scribbled along the edges in Jonathan’s familiar chicken scratch.
A couple of packets of photographs revealed stage sets for various performances, a couple with Adam Klaus front and centre, and close up shots of what she assumed were the mechanics of Jonathan’s old profession. Nothing to suggest who the mysterious woman was. After half an hour she started to feel like she was maybe prying into something that wasn’t her business, and decided to put everything back. That’s when she noticed a small, blue box in one of the alcoves at the back of the bureau.
She reached for it, easing the velvet caddy out and opening it with some trepidation, half-expecting to see an engagement ring inside, another pointer to an intense but unsuccessful love affair. Instead, there was a gold pendent on an expensive looking chain. She didn’t recognise the figure imprinted on the front - a saint, she guessed, but not St Christopher. She turned it over and read the inscription on the back:
for the true conjurer among us, A
Still, she didn’t have a clue who A was.
He stared out of the window of the otherwise empty train carriage on his way back to Haverley. There was a pool of warmth inside him that hadn’t been there in a very long time, that same feeling he apparently still associated with being near to Adam. Reconnecting with him had been a risk. There was a lot of who who’d once been that he’d had to bury deep to live life on the same path Polly was on. And he really did love her.
Seeing Adam again was like pulling on a thread which threatened to unravel all of his hard work, to bring everything back to the surface, to re-awaken the creative illusionist within him. He brought to mind that first moment he’d seen him again, making sure it was a moment he could treasure.
Odd words, now he thought about it. He supposed he could have looked Adam up and found the show at the top of the Google results. Perhaps that’s the assumption he’d jumped to. But something about them niggled at him.
He awoke in the middle of the night, went to take a piss and couldn’t get back to sleep. The street lights outside were turned off between midnight and three each morning, which put the time in that frame. The room was almost pitch black. He could hear Polly snoring softly next to him as he lay on his back and stared into the darkness.
An hour later, a single question was bouncing around his head, one he knew he’d have to get the answer to first thing or it would keep stalking him.
Who bought the windmill?
His solicitor had the answer to hand, just as Jonathan had thought he should.
‘Mr Chester McCreery,’ Don Graham, of Graham, Graham & Associates told him at just gone nine that same morning. ‘Highfield, Lasswade, Edinburgh.’
Jonathan thanked him and put the phone down quietly. He wasn’t sure how he felt now, but he wasn’t surprised. He should have guessed, quite honestly.
‘Jonathan!’ Polly appeared in the doorway from the kitchen. He recognised the expression - it wasn’t the first time she’d called his name, obviously.
‘Sorry. What’s up?’
‘I said, remember we’re out tonight with Caroline and Jeremy.’ His blank expression must have given him away. She rolled her eyes. ‘Caroline and Jeremy. Dinner at Mozanne’s, followed by a recital by Elizabeth Bass at the Royal Academy.’
She lost him at Jeremy. They didn’t get on, Jonathan and Jeremy. Jeremy regarded him as a lucky pretender with no class and Jonathan thought Jeremy was a pretentious prick.
‘Must we?’ he asked, trying not to sound like a petulant child.
‘They are our friends.’
‘No. Caroline is your friend. Why don’t the two of you just go out for the night?’
‘Because it’s been arranged for weeks. The tickets cost a small fortune and the restaurant has a hundred pound per head deposit at the time of booking. We’re going. Both of us.’ She underlined that the conversation was over by vanishing back inside the kitchen.
With only a second’s hesitation, Jonathan picked up his coat, checked he had his wallet and phone, and walked out of the front door.
He got the last ticket at the end of the front row, and a beer from the bar. When the lights went down, and Adam stepped into the spotlight, Jonathan leaned forward, and knew the moment he was spotted.
He stayed at the end of the performance, shifted one seat along, so Adam had somewhere to sit when he came out from back stage to say hello. Jonathan got the distinct feeling he was expected.
‘You bought the windmill,’ he murmured, without preamble. Adam confirmed it even though he didn’t need to. ‘Why?’
‘Because for a time it was home from home. And because I could.’
‘Why wait five years?’
‘I didn’t know it was on the market until late last year. I drove out to see you, thinking you were still living there. When I saw the sign, I rang the agent and told him I’d pay the asking price. He asked me if I wanted to view it, I said I already had. You accepted the offer that same day. I think… that broke what was left of my heart.’
Eyes fixed firmly on the centre of the performance area, Jonathan surreptitiously wiped the beginnings of a tear from his eye.
‘You left the flyer tacked to the fridge.’
‘Just an idle idea. I didn’t know if you’d go back before the sale completed. You’re not exactly the sentimental type. But I thought if you did, it would be a not so subtle hint that I was still alive, still performing. Still wanted to see you.’
Jonathan leaned sideways a little, shoulder pressing into Adam’s. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, how I ended up like this, living someone else’s life.’
Adam’s head came to rest against his own. ‘I don’t know this woman you’ve married. But it seems to me as if she’s trying to erase not just a part of you, but the very soul of who you are. When you fall in love with someone, aren’t you supposed to fall in love with the person they are, not the person you’d like them to be?’
‘If that’s true, why did I fall in love with you?’ He was elbowed in the ribs, albeit gently, for that comment.
‘I fell in love with the magician in you, and the visionary, the story teller and the risk taker. That’s who you are. That’s why you’re still solving impossible crimes, because you need something to alleviate the boredom.’
Adam wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. He just didn’t know how to respond.
‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘Give it back to you.’ He sounded surprised, as if Jonathan should already have worked that out too.
Jonathan sat forward and turned to look at him. ‘What?’
‘With the caveat that you can’t sell it again. And that if anything happens to you, it reverts to me. I won’t let it fall into the hands of a woman who had the chance to live in it and turned it down.’
‘I don’t…. Why would you give it back to me?’
‘Because you love it more than I do. Because it’s your home. Use it… as a sanctuary, somewhere to get away from where is it you live now? A typical English village with nosy neighbours and village fairs?’ Jonathan nodded absently. He was still trying to process what Adam was giving him. ’Maybe we could meet there for drinks now and again?’
Adam’s smile was even brighter than he remembered it.
‘Evening performance finishes at nine. Why don’t you watch that one from backstage? You’re welcome to give my prodigies some pointers. For now, why don’t we get something to eat? I take it there’s nowhere you have to be?’
He sent Polly a text that said, ‘won’t make it tonight - something’s come up. See you in the morning. Sorry. Jonathan.’ Then he switched off his phone.
Adam’s driver dropped them at Maskelyne Manor and after a quick change of clothes, Adam drove them out to Ripley Mill in a new but similar blue BMW to the one he used to have. The idea of looking out over the railing tomorrow morning and seeing the car parked up the way he remembered it made him feel warm inside.
As they approached the door of the mill, Adam slid a Yale key from his keyring and handed it to Jonathan. ‘As I promised. Yours.’
‘Keep it.’ Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, Jonathan found the one he’d held on to. ‘This way, we can both come over whenever we need to escape.’
He was surprised to find the place looking… lived in. The shelves in the ground floor kitchen were stocked, there were pans and dishes and mugs and coffee…..
‘You did all this for me.’ It wasn’t a question. It didn’t need to be. ‘After all this time.’
‘I still love you after all this time.’
Turning to face Adam, Jonathan reached for his hand, stepped up until they were toe to toe and leaned in for a long and overdue kiss.
What started on the kitchen table moved to the new battered leather sofa in the lounge, and when that started to make a worrying creaking sound they took it upstairs to the king sized iron bed with its new mattress Adam had thoughtfully had delivered and installed.
None of the old passion had diminished. Adam seemed to be determined to kiss every inch of Jonathan as if he was making up for lost time, and for Jonathan it was - as it had always been in the past - enough to have Adam’s overwhelming physical presence so close to him, to have all that focus directed solely at him. It had always been good between them. Nothing had changed.
To say Polly was pissed off would be an understatement. She told Caroline and Jeremy that Jonathan had been unfortunately delayed at work while leaving multiple messages on his voice mail and sending a text every ten minutes. Then every thirty. Then on the hour. By ten she’d stopped calling, stopped texting. Stopped thinking about him altogether.
After the recital they went for cocktails at a swanky hotel bar after she booked herself in to a room for the night. If Jonathan could stay out and enjoy himself, so could she.
The night, the morning, were blissful. In contrast to the almost desperate sex of the late hours, as the sun came up they made love with no less passion but a little less breaking of furniture.
Adam made coffee and they drank it standing out on the veranda, fully clothed, hugging one another against the frosty morning.
‘I went back to Skin a couple of times, after you left.’ Skin was a club Adam had introduced Jonathan to after he’d been invited to perform there. It was an exclusive venue, members only, for performers of adult magic, strictly over 18s.
Adam looked surprised. ‘Alone?’ Jonathan nodded. ‘But you didn’t end the night alone.’
All he’d say was, ‘You went to the states, just like Maddy. And just like Maddy, you didn’t come back.’
‘I came back two years ago.’
‘But you didn’t get in touch.’
‘It’s the US, Jonathan, not the moon. You could have emailed, texted, called, visited. I assumed you didn’t want to see me, so I stayed away.’
‘Until last November.’
He shrugged. ‘I missed you. So sue me.’
Putting his mug on the wooden railing, Adam wrapped both arms around Jonathan’s waist and kissed his neck. ‘We’re older now, and wiser. We won’t fuck it up this time.’
Jonathan snorted. ‘You think?’ Adam nodded, nipping at Jonathan’s earlobe with his front teeth. ‘Let’s hope.’
He expected to have to face the music when he got home, but the house was empty and by the looks of their room, the en suite and the kitchen, Polly hadn’t been back all night either.
It was too tempting not to lie when she eventually got back, not to take the moral high ground. She ended up being the one apologising, particularly after he’d jumped on the bed and taken a messy shower, made coffee and toast, all to convince her he’d actually got back just before midnight, eleven hours before her.
He felt a twinge of guilt but nothing that wasn’t easily quieted by taking her for a conciliatory lunch at the village pub.
When she asked him where he’d been, he’d sort of told the truth, that he’d run into an old friend and they’d gone to see a show at The House of Magic, lucky to get tickets so late in the day. She admitted to staying at a hotel after one too many cocktails with Caroline and Jeremy, and conceded that the night wouldn’t have been ‘up Jonathan’s street’.
She promised to ask him before she made future plans for them both. It was one of those give and take things that marriages had to bend around to survive. She was making peace, the way she’d done often in the course of their relationship, because otherwise he thought he might have strangled her at one time or another. But all the time he was thinking about Adam, about how right it had felt last night and this morning. How much he wished he could just rewind time and go back to when their lives were impossibly intertwined.
His mobile buzzed and he read the text that appeared on screen, thinking he needed to turn off message preview.
last night, this morning, heaven. again sometime soon? love you, A
If Polly saw that…. He’d dated Maddy and Adam at the same time for months before she found out about his relationship with his employer, and then for months after, until she’d demanded he chose between them. He knew Polly would divorce him the moment she found out he’d cheated on her, even if it was with a man.
Jonathan being bi-sexual didn’t fit with her self-made image of him at all.
When they got back home, he unlocked the door and as the key for the windmill fell against his thumb he wondered if and when he was going to tell her he was once again the owner of Ripley Mill.
That he’d regained much that he’d thought lost to him forever made him happier than he’d been in a long time, but it also made him restless. He went into the office but every conversation bored him stupid, every so-called crisis felt like pointless bullshit. He sat at his desk and sketched the workings of several new and elaborate tricks, realising after a few days that he wasn’t designing individual performances, but an entire stage show.
On the Friday morning he texted Adam.
can we meet? J
The reply came back almost immediately.
Lunch at the Italian up the road?
perfect. see you at 3. After the matinee. After a moment’s hesitation, he also texted, miss you.
Again, he didn’t have to wait for a response. Miss you with every heartbeat.
He took the sketches with him, beat Adam to the restaurant by half an hour and had already made his way through half a bottle of a very good Chianti before his companion arrived.
The world had changed in the years they’d been apart. Adam greeted him with a kiss to his cheek and it threw him for a second or two. By the time he’d regained his composure, the waiter had been poured a second glass of wine and Adam had been settled at the table with a menu, which he didn’t need.
‘I was relieved to get your text. I wasn’t sure when I’d hear from you.’
‘Before last week, I hadn’t realised how much I’d given up, how little of myself I recognised.’ Putting his hand flat on the table, he touched his fingertips to Adam’s. ‘Seeing you again has changed everything. But then I knew it would. Going to the studio last week, I was grasping at the first lifeline I’d found. Not to say…. That’s not all you are to me, a way of pulling myself out of this… quagmire I’ve managed to fall into.’
Adam’s hand came forward to rest over the top of his own. ‘I didn’t think that at all. But I’m glad it’s what I am.’
The waiter interrupted them politely, asking if they were ready to order. Jonathan chose gnocchi in a leek and cream sauce, Adam went for spaghetti carbonara with a small garlic bread on the side. He smiled at Jonathan as he made the request, and Jonathan smiled back. Countless evenings in countless restaurants they’d shared a garlic bread.
‘It’s okay if we both have it,’ he’d always said.
‘I’ve been sketching,’ he admitted, like he was confessing to some mortal sin. He handed over the separate sheets of graph paper for Adam’s scrutiny. ‘I don’t know if they’re actually possible.’
‘They’re more than possible,’ Adam at least sounded impressed. ‘They’re brilliant.’
‘All this technology around these days… no one’s using it in the way that I would.’
‘No one thinks in the way you do, no one ever did. That’s what made me great - your obscure mind.’
‘Over the last few years, you’ve made yourself great.’
He shook his head. ‘I’m introducing new talent in a 200 seater studio. We played the Apollo.’
Jonathan swallowed. He didn’t know if he was doing the right thing, chances were he wasn’t, but it wasn’t going to stop him apparently. ‘Do you think we could again?’
She needed an envelope, that’s what Polly told herself. She absolutely wasn’t prying. Jonathan usually kept some of the A4 ones around, the ones with the cardboard insets and DO NOT BEND printed across the front.
She opened the top drawer of the chest in what had become his temporary home office almost a year ago and was relieved to be in luck. She lifted the last one from inside the drawer and was about to close it up when something caught her eye; a collection of old show posters for various Adam Klaus tours and theatre runs. It wasn’t a big surprise to see them, but what caught her eye was Adam’s signature across the bottom, left hand corner of one, photocopied and printed, but nevertheless in a bold, cursive, flowing hand. The same handwriting, if she wasn’t mistaken, that was on the notes she’d found in the bureau.
It wasn’t an old girlfriend Jonathan was keeping from her. It was Adam Klaus.
Adam stared at him across the table. ‘Are you serious?’
‘This is who I am. I’ve tried to put it behind me but it just won’t stay there.’
‘Why? Why have you tried to put it behind you? Why would you ever deny who you are? I don’t get it.’
‘Because the magic was always about you. Right from the early days it was you and I against the world.’
Adam laughed. ‘Really?’
Jonathan nodded. ‘Absolutely. And believe me, given some of your past behaviour, I know how bizarre that sounds.’
‘Admit it, before we started sleeping together you were an arrogant arsehole.’
‘Um. I’m not sure I will admit to that.’
‘You were. And after… you became my whole life, my entire existence, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Worst thing was, I didn’t realise that’s what had happened until you weren’t there. I was completely lost when Polly found me. I just let her lead because I had no idea how to do anything else. I don’t think I saw any point in doing anything else. And slowly but surely, she lead me away from everything my life had once been to the everything it now is.’
Adam slid his hand around and under Jonathan’s, pressing his fingertips to the pulse point in his wrist.
‘I’m not trying to destroy your marriage.’
He didn’t know how to respond to that. Luckily he was saved by their food arriving. But no conversation with Adam had ever been left half-finished. He could pause topics for hours, days, and come back to them when the other person involved had long since forgotten what they’d been talking about. It had always struck Jonathan as odd that someone so self-obsessed had such a focused memory for anything that involved someone else.
But of course the self-obsession had itself been something of an act.
‘I know. But like I said, it’s always been you. I chose you over Maddy.’
‘I’m not asking you to chose me over your wife.’ Adam tore off a piece of garlic bread and offered it to him. ‘I just want to be a part of your life again. And this could be my massive ego talking, but I think you need me right now, at least as much as I need you.’ Jonathan nodded. ‘So, how about we get your designs made into reality, and find a rehearsal space?’
Adam’s run at the studio finished in early February after a week’s extension. They wanted him to stay on longer, but he turned them down. When Jonathan asked him if he was sure, he reminded him that it wasn’t about money - he didn’t need the money - it was about performing. He didn’t just want a bigger stage again, he wanted a bigger act, and Jonathan was offering it to him.
For the first four weeks, they met at the windmill when Jonathan could get away, refining the tricks he’d conjured up, working out the details, the measurements and exact requirements to email to the companies in Cornwall, and Dusseldorf that would be making the new props and gadgets.
There was a wait then, for the first items to turn up. Adam did a couple of guest spots on magic shows in theatres and on satellite television channels, one of which they happened to catch while he and Polly were home together one night.
‘Do you miss him?’ Polly asked, out of the blue, during the adverts.
The question shouldn’t have taken Jonathan by surprise. It wasn’t like she didn’t know about his past career. It wasn’t as if Adam’s name was never mentioned. It just didn’t come up often, and of course Jonathan’s own guilty conscience gave the question a significance he hoped Polly didn’t mean it to have.
‘I saw him, actually, a couple of weeks ago.’ He tried to make the answer sound as if it hadn’t meant much, but he knew she wouldn’t buy it.
‘You did?’ Something about the way she said it made him wary. ‘You didn’t say.’
‘It was just in passing. He had a show at The Adingdon Studio in Temple. I’d been at Kite Publishing for a meeting about a couple of their books the BBC are filming later in the year.’ That part at least was true - Kite was one of their bigger clients.
There was still something in the way Polly was looking at him but he’d learnt a long time ago not to jump to conclusions.
‘Just in passing? After what? Eight years?’
‘Just the standard hello, what are you up to these days. Not long enough to fill in the blanks left by years apart. But we swapped contact details.’ He watched her pick at one of the rubber keys on the television’s remote control and finally he got annoyed by the loaded silence. ’What?’
‘We’re supposed to be leaving our pasts behind. Both of us.’
He wondered, and not for the first time, what it was in her past she needed to leave behind. He’d asked, she’d never said.
‘I can’t help it if I bump into old friends now and again.’
Her head snapped up. ‘But he’s just not an old friend, is he?’
Jonathan’s heart suddenly sounded louder, harder, faster. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I found the notes from him in the old bureau. And the gold pendant.’
The pendent! He’d thought he’d lost it in the move from the mill. His first emotion was relief that he hadn’t. His second, interestingly, was curiosity. His momentary fear that she knew about them now evaporated. Instead he was filled with a feeling of exhilaration that she finally knew there had been something more between them back then.
Still, he felt he should waylay her. ‘You know all about Adam.’
‘Not all, obviously. Some of the notes end with the words ‘I love you’.’
He sighed. ‘We… had an affair.’
‘You had an affair with Adam Klaus?’
‘Yes. It ended my relationship with Maddy and went on for four years, give or take.’
That part she obviously hadn’t expected. The shock was clear in her voice. ‘Four years?! That’s not an affair, Jonathan! I know of marriages shorter than that.’
‘We worked together. We slept together. For a while it suited us.’
‘Did you love him?’
‘Yes. Very much.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
He could hear the hurt he’d caused her, but really - would it have hurt any less if he’d told her when they’d first met?
‘Because I didn’t want to explain it. You know the same Adam Klaus everyone else on the outside knows. You don’t know the Adam I fell in love with, the private side of him. What we had was ours. Very few people ever knew about us. When you and I met it was over and had been for a long time.’ She did seem to back down. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.’
‘No. It’s… I do understand.’ She sounded as if she meant it. ‘Telling me about old girlfriends is one thing, old boyfriends is quite another.’
‘Singular. And Adam wasn’t really what I’d describe as a boyfriend.’ Hs shook his head. If he was ever going to admit to having rekindled the affair, now was probably the time. But he was a coward at heart and he didn’t know how to say it. He wasn’t sleeping with Adam to hurt Polly. Just like their relationship years ago, it was theirs and it was private.
She took him out at the knees with her next line. ’A marriage isn’t supposed to have secrets.’
Suitably chastised, he nodded, ‘I know,’ but still didn’t confess.
The next day, while she was out at Kathy’s having coffee with the village book club, or some other club, Jonathan found the pendent and the notes in the bureau. He fastened the chain around his neck while he read back the scribbled lines from a lifetime ago.
of everything in my life, you’re what I couldn’t ever live without.
He stared at the words. He and Adam had never really ended it, they just spent too much time and distance apart so that when they were together there was too much space between them. Ironically, given that after eight years it felt like they fitted together like two halves of a whole. He supposed, given that it never ended, they’d never really fallen out of love with one another, as was more than evident now.
His phone vibrated in his pocket and he checked it, reading Adam’s text.
Phantom and Flowers have both arrived at my place. When are you free?
The first of their new tricks. The show was starting to come together. Eventually he was going to have to tell Polly. And he suspected that with the best will in the world, that was when his marriage would really hit the rocks. If he had any regrets, any second thoughts, now was the time to put a stop to it all, sign the rights over to Adam and walk away.
He checked the times of the buses and trains, and texted back.
Give me an hour.
I’ll send a car to the station.
I’ll take a cab.
Don’t be an idiot.
By the time he reached the station, Adam’s driver was waiting for him in a silver Mercedes. Different from the white Rolls he was once driven around in, but no less luxurious.
If the windmill had been Adam’s home from home at one time, Maskelyne Manor was the same for Jonathan. The sprawling modern mansion, with its indoor swimming pool and outdoor tennis court, had always been too big for Adam living alone with his Bengal tiger and long string of girlfriends. A thousand memories had been made in this house; good times, sad times, frustrating as hell times.
Adam met him at the door, beckoned him inside and kissed him. Jonathan caught the sound that almost escaped his throat and wrapped one arm around Adam’s neck, leaning into it. He felt Adam’s hand slide beneath his coat, over his ribcage, and for the next hour he forgot why he’d made the journey in the first place.
‘Long time since I’ve been in this room,’ he murmured, staring at the ceiling of Adam’s suite, idly winding his fingers through the waves of Adam’s hair.
’You’re the only person I’ve ever slept with in this bed.’
Jonathan lifted his head to peer down. Adam’s head was pressed into his side, one leg resting over Jonathan’s, cutting off the circulation to his right foot.
‘I am serious. When I bring women home, I always use the room on the other side of the staircase.’ Jonathan thought back, tried to, to the nights they’d both come back here and he’d slept in the guest room. He was surprised to find his memory confirming Adam’s assertion.
‘That’s all you have to say? Wow? You know, you’re the love of my life.’ Jonathan opened his mouth to deny it but he knew it was the truth. Maddy had seen it, all those years ago, seen the adoration in the way Adam looked at him. ‘Can I ask, why did you get married?’
‘Because she asked. Because I couldn’t see any alternative, other than growing old alone. I thought marriage would be preferable.’
‘And is it?’
‘I don’t know. I love her, I imagined I was in love with her. But along you come again after eight years and remind me what it’s like to actually be in love.’
Beside him, Adam turned over and crawled up over his chest to kiss him. ‘You kept the pendent.’
‘Polly found it. She knows about us, back in the day.’
‘Does she know about us now?’
‘No. Not yet. But she isn’t stupid. She’s going to work it out sooner rather than later.’
‘I won’t ever ask you to leave her. But if you do, I’m here, I’m yours. This house is yours, as well as the windmill. And I promise you, on my life, I won’t leave this time.’
Jonathan reached up, swept his palm over Adam’s obviously coloured hair, over his shaven cheek and chin. ’Older and wiser?’
‘Older and wiser.’ Spoken like a promise to one another.
‘So… are you going to show me the new tricks…?’
She was going to find out, one way or another, but in the end it was the windmill, and the transfer of ownership back to Jonathan, that brought everything out into the open.
Adam’s solicitor sent a copy of the land registry document to ‘Mr Creek’, and Polly opened it. She said it was an honest mistake, and Jonathan believed her. He’d opened letters addressed to Mrs Creek in the past. Thinking the registry document had been sent in error, she’d rung the solicitor to confirm that in fact the windmill no longer belonged to her husband. Of course, the solicitor had corrected her, saying that the windmill had indeed transferred to his client, but that his client had subsequently signed the building and all its land back over to Jonathan as a gift, with one particular caveat.
She asked who his client was, but she already knew what the answer was going to be. He’d always been there, she realised, in Jonathan’s past, like a spectre waiting for an opportunity to return. Adam’s presence in Jonathan’s life, she realised belatedly, had had far more of an impact than hers ever would. If only he’d told her just how important the publicly arrogant magician had been to him, maybe she might have been forewarned.
But she didn’t have any weapons in her arsenal against the only man her husband had ever loved enough to have sex with. The windmill was an impressive gift. She wondered if they really had just met up again by accident, in passing, as Jonathan had said.
When it came to such things, she was so much braver than Jonathan. She asked him straight out, the moment he got home that evening.
‘Did you know Adam was the buyer for the mill?’
She was sitting at the kitchen table, glass of wine in her hand, open bottle in front of her. Jonathan hoped she wasn’t going to throw it at him.
He took off his coat and lay it over the back of a wooden chair. He didn’t sit down, but fetched a glass and filled it from the bottle, subtly moving it out of her immediate reach, walking back to lean against the door frame.
‘Not at the time. I found out later, earlier this year, after I’d been to see his show in London. I lied to you about bumping into him. I went to see him, deliberately. We had lunch and talked. Something he said made me wonder, so I rang the solicitor the next morning. He used his real name. Not many people would have known it was him. When I confronted him about it, he told me he was giving it back to me, on the condition that it reverted to him if anything happened to me.’
Polly nodded. ‘He didn’t want me to have it.’
‘He loves the mill almost as much as I do.’
She closed her eyes. ‘I’m sorry I made you sell it.’
‘You didn’t make me sell it. ‘
‘I did. The same way I made you get rid of everything inside it.’
‘Not everything. There’s twice as much stuff in the shed as went into that skip.’
She looked at him steadily. ’So what was his price for the mill? Have you seen him since?’
‘No price. But he and I… we’re working something new.’ He was such a coward.
‘A new show?! When… how… No, let’s go with why don’t I know about this?’
‘Because I knew this is how you’d react.’
‘So… when were you going to tell me?’
‘We don’t know if anything’s going to come of it. We’re just working on a couple of tricks. We haven’t talked to any promotors yet.’
‘That’s horse shit and you know it. With Adam’s name and your reputation?’
He shrugged. He hoped she was right, of course, the material they had looked fantastic. They were quietly confident, but the show wasn’t always first and foremost in their minds when they were together.
‘Magic’s what I’m good at, it’s where my heart is.’ It was supposed to be a plea for understanding, but going by the expression on her face, he’d said more than he’d meant to. ‘I didn’t mean….’
‘Do you still love him?’
‘Yes.’ He couldn’t deny it. Wouldn’t deny it. ‘I don’t think I ever stopped. I just… buried it. I didn’t mean for all this to happen. When I went to see the show I just wanted to reconnect with something, someone from back then.’
‘Back when you were happy.’
‘I’m not unhappy.’ He stressed the point.
‘But you’re not you anymore.’ She sighed softly, staring into her wine but not drinking it. She was sensible, it was one of the things he’d found so attractive in the beginning - a sensible, normal person in contrast to the madness he’d been surrounded by for so long. He just hadn’t understood how much he’d relished that madness. ‘I’ve been asking myself if I was ever actually in love with who you were.’ She glanced up. ‘I’m not saying that to be cruel. I’m questioning myself, not you; my own motives. I saw a man easy to shape and I took advantage of it. I was so taken with the idea of finding a man who met my needs that I didn’t stop to think if I met yours.’
‘This isn’t your fault. I do love you.’
‘But you love Adam more.’
‘I think it might have always been him. If he hadn’t gone to America, or if I’d gone with him, we might not have grown apart. We’d either be living like an old married couple by now, or we’d have split up irrefutably. I was too wrapped up in my subsidiary career in solving baffling crimes.’ He shook his head, curled his hand around his untouched glass of wine. ‘I just let it fizzle out so it never really ended.’
‘And here I thought I’d married a straight man.’ She gazed at him ruefully, raised one hand. ‘Sorry. Don’t answer that.’ She drained her glass and reached across for the bottle to refill it. Jonathan crossed the room and finally sat down at the table opposite her, pushing it closer to her.
‘I’ll move out if you want me to. But it hadn’t been my intention to leave.’
‘What is your intention?’
It was a good question. He hadn’t thought that far ahead. Moving back to the windmill would probably be the best thing he could do. He couldn’t decide if it felt like a forwards or backwards move but he did miss the place: the peace, the isolation, the view. Especially with Adam’s BMW parked in the middle of it.
It was that one memory that kept coming back to him, bringing with it the warmth, the happiness of that morning, of those times. He wasn’t naive enough to think he could get that back, things would never be the same, but he did think maybe he could be happy again, really happy, he could be himself again: Jonathan Creek, Creative Consultant to Adam Klaus.
‘I honestly haven’t given it any thought. I’ve been living one day to the next, working on the tricks for Adam, enjoying exercising that part of my brain again. Even with that… like I said, we haven’t contacted any venues or producers. It’s in its infancy and who knows if it’ll ever get any further.’
‘Then why do it? Wait. Don’t answer that either.’
‘It’s not been about the show. It’s been about finding out if I can still do all that. The leaps in technology have opened up whole new possibilities. Anything is possible, it’s just a case of putting a different spin on what other people are doing, trying to find original ideas in amongst all that’s happening. Close up magic shows are making a come back, there are so many clubs and hideouts in London dedicated to it. Adam’s really good at the sleight of hand stuff, so maybe it’s not even a show, maybe its a routine touring clubs….’ He noticed the look on her face and stopped talking.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this animated before.’
‘Because this is what I do.’
She nodded slowly. ‘I can see that now. I thought, at the beginning, you were looking for a change, for a new challenge.’
‘A new challenge, yes. But what did you call it? A reboot?’ He shook his head. ‘Without Adam I was lost. There wasn’t anyone to tell me what I was doing was worth anything. You came along and told me it wasn’t worth anything and I believed you. I was in a place where I wanted someone to tell me I could do something worth while and that’s what you did.’
He reached for the bottle and she reached for his hand. ‘Maybe if I got to know the real you, I would love the real you.’ He brushed his thumb over her fingertips and picked up the bottle, refilling his glass. ‘Or does the real you still belong to someone else?’ She didn’t seem to need it confirming.
’Remember the explained death of Franklin Tartikoff?’
‘Solving that started you back down the slippery slope.’
‘No. I mean, yes, it did, sort of. But it wasn’t solving the problem of his impossible death. It was that secret society. The magic show. Brad and Franklin designing illusions together. I remember feeling a stab of something as I watched the terrible trick with the spinning pumpkin through the window of their barn, something like… regret, even jealousy. I think it’s been percolating since then and losing the mill, my final link to it all, scared me into reaching out to take something back.’
‘Adam.’ She tapped her manubrium and Jonathan raised his hand to touch the pendent hanging around his neck. ’I think you should move out. Given that you’ve got somewhere to go.’
He’d expected to feel bad at the end of it, but all he could feel was relief. He’d spent the best part of his life looking for the truth where it had been obscured, better that way than to live a life of lies.
Leaning on the first floor veranda railing, mug of black coffee in his hand, Jonathan watched the blue BMW pull through the gates and park in front of the mill.
He watched Adam get out and wave up. ‘You look like the proverbial cat that got the mouse, the cream and a cherry on top.’
‘I think I might just be one of the luckiest men alive,’ he called down.
Walking around to the back of the car, Adam popped the boot open. ‘I got you a housewarming gift.’
‘I thought you could be my housewarming gift.’
‘With pleasure. But I thought you might like this.’ Jonathan watched him lean in and lift out a box, about three feet wide by two deep. He only needed the briefest glance to recognise it. My First Box of Magic.
‘The trick of life,’ Adam pointed out, ‘is to know what’s junk and what’s precious, and to hang on to everything just in case one becomes the other.’ He locked the car. ‘Now get your ass down here and you can have your present.’