A piece of the jigsaw: A television interview where Michael attempts to manipulate the media, and it’s affect on the family in Scotland!
James counted the horse riders taking advantage of the sunny autumn morning: only five, and the weather forecast for later was overcast with a strong possibility of rain. He went back into the house, grateful the journalists in the helicopter parked beside his own were reluctant to leave their breakfasts. He’d provided them to smooth feathers ruffled by Alasdair and Bruce who’d been asked to explain the coffin they were seen loading into the Kinloch helicopter. As usual, Alasdair had taken it for granted they could use it to deliver one of Bruce’s sculptures without asking or paying.
A guest emerged from the larger of the two lounges. ‘Mr Marsh, would you mind tuning the television.’ Mr Lester flapped the tabloid, Circadian Gossip, under his nose. ‘You can pick up programmes broadcast from Italy?’
‘Yes, I’ll do it for you now.’
All television channels available was a facility offered on the Kinloch Wildlife Reserve website. Just occasionally, the mast erected on a mountain top let them down: it hadn’t this morning, drat it. He located the channel, ostentatiously deaf to the complaints voiced by far too many guests waiting to watch the interview spot advertised as Luongo Inside Stories.
Mr Terry, a burly businessman from London, was in full flow. ‘It didn’t seem unreasonable to expect a wildlife reserve to be a peaceful haven for humans too. I suffer quite enough from the media attacking my company without finding the blasted nuisances haunting me when I do take a holiday.’
‘I agree, and that damned helicopter arriving woke my wife.’ Mr Partridge stopped to yawn, as if he’d been awake ever since. ‘She’s out riding, but goodness knows if she’ll get back without some idiot journalist waylaying her.’
Mr Donne’s Texan voice broke in. ‘The Kinloch helicopter is taking us to Aberdeen Airport. I’ve booked a flight to Belfast. We want to see something of the Old Country before we go home, and I shall expect a full refund. I said as much to Mrs Cameron.’
The American and his family occupied three suites, and he’d talk when he got home. They all would unless Michael could say something to stop the paparazzi raking over the embers of a forgotten scandal and igniting a flame that looked like becoming a conflagration that would consume them all.
‘Isn’t leaving today a little hasty, Mr Donne? After all, Mr Lester asked Mr Marsh specially to find the right channel, so we could find out the truth.’
He paused, occupying his hands with a flower arrangement. He knew nothing about arranging flowers, but the lady speaking was one of two sisters who’d been visiting Kinloch since he was a youngster.
Mrs Terry spoke. ‘I agree with you, Miss Carver. Michael Marsh is well-liked by the staff here, and they know him a great deal better than we do.’
Mr Donne snorted. ‘Kinloch Wildlife Reserve is the biggest employer in the area. They’re hardly likely to criticise the laird’s father.’
Drat the man. Over fifty percent of their guests were American, and the majority were a pleasure to entertain. Would they return if the media verdict was guilty whether the police took an interest or not?
Miss Carver, less shy than her sister, wasn’t to be silenced. ‘I’ve met Michael and his wife. They’re a charming couple, and generous enough to play and sing for guests sometimes. Where else would you have the privilege of asking a superstar for requests?’
‘It seems you aren’t the only woman Michael Marsh has charmed, Miss Carver. We’re leaving. My wife and daughters are with me, and I won’t have them exposed to scandal.’
Nothing he could offer would stop complaints this serious. He left the mixture of red and white roses drooping askew and joined Gran, who was watching the same channel on the television in the study.
She replaced a cup on the coffee table. ‘It’s raining in Rome. Not very pleasant for the people queuing for entrance to the Vatican. I had no idea it was open so early.’
Rain in Scotland wouldn’t have kept many more guests indoors. He sat beside Gran, praying for a miracle and fearing the collapse of the business and all their lives. Would she survive if that happened, or give in to the hip pain and arthritis that plagued her?
Advert followed advert before the programme began. It opened with a view of a massive circle of machines he couldn’t identify and homed in on chairs set around a table. One of them was occupied, and the gentleman spoke into the camera.
‘Buongiorno da Roma. Good morning from Rome. This is Alberto Luongo welcoming you to Luongo Inside Stories, and my guests this morning are Lisette and Michael Marsh.’
Lisette, shaking the man’s hand and taking a seat, said something he could barely hear, and couldn’t understand. Obviously, a greeting in Italian.
Gran fidgeted. ‘Michael looks tired.’
Would it make an incestuous affair seem more likely or less? For the first time Michael looked his age, and he wouldn’t be the first older man to attempt to recapture his youth with an attractive young woman.
Alberto Luongo put his first questions pleasantly to Lisette, but her replies were short. It was a relief when Michael interrupted their host.
‘You must forgive, Lisette. She strained her vocal cords during the concert in Istanbul. She has an appointment with an otolaryngologist here in Rome later this morning.’
The man shook his head with what looked like fake sympathy. ‘Turkish audiences will keep singers all night if they can, and I’m sure you two had more amusing ideas to occupy your time than endless encores.’ He pressed on when he got no response. ‘Lisette, will you be able to sing for us tomorrow?’
‘I don’t think so, but the concert will go ahead.’
Michael put a hand over hers. ‘Hush, Lisette. Talking won’t help. My wife, Elspeth, is on her way now. She’ll be taking Lisette’s place in the concerts until an ENT specialist gives Lisette the all clear.’
He almost fell over Gran’s feet, leaping up to shake his fist with more fervour ‘He didn’t have to sound so bloody surprised!’
Alberto Luongo’s eyes had lit. Like the rest of the media, he was backing off accusing his guests of incest, but he’d seen his chance to make a more blatant hint. ‘She’ll be with you for the rest of the tour taking care of her daughter?’
Replacing his hand on the chair arm, Michael produced a worried frown. ‘If a week’s rest is enough for Lisette my wife will fly home after the concert in Athens. Our youngest daughter is only eleven. We have an au pair, and my middle daughter, Harriet, is there too, but Greta needs her mother. She’s not a strong child.’
‘You have three daughters?’
He thumped the back of the sofa. ‘Luongo may as well have accused Michael of having a fucking choice.’
Gran was intent on the screen, but he had a nasty feeling he hadn’t heard the last of that remark. If he wasn’t so worried, he wouldn’t use the foul language Alasdair habitually did. Michael was fighting, but it was imperative his argument was convincing.
‘Three daughters and two sons. It’s Kit’s music this tour was arranged to promote and the whole family are keen to see him succeed. He’s a very talented composer.’
The interrogator wasn’t giving in: he turned from Michael to Lisette. ‘You left a successful career in America to publicise your brother’s work?’
Lisette moved nearer the mic: she must have, though it was off-camera. Could she say anything to halt the disaster he was watching, as were most of the Kinloch House guests.
‘I haven’t seen any of my family since I flew to America to star in my first Broadway musical. At the end of the tour I plan to stay in the UK and catch up with them all. My brother, James, owns a wildlife reserve in Scotland, and my grandmother still lives there. I haven’t even met Greta, my youngest sister.’
‘You don’t intend to stay with – Michael?’
‘Gran, Luongo came close to saying your lover.’
‘Hush, James, and do sit down. Lisette’s still speaking.’
‘– my two sisters, and of course Kit, still live at home. I can’t wait to hear what Kit’s working on now.’
Michael intervened. ‘Lisette, don’t try to say anymore.’
‘Forgive me, Lisette. Michael, Italy is a country with many very beautiful young singers. You didn’t consider employing one of them in Lisette’s place?’
‘My theatrical agent suggested exactly that, but Elspeth wouldn’t hear of it.’
He groaned. It sounded as if Elspeth didn’t trust him, but Michael was still talking, and if he interrupted again – Gran did have a temper.
‘Elspeth sings for guests at the hotel attached to the wildlife reserve, and Clement Fynn coached her as he did Lisette.’
‘But she didn’t take up singing professionally?’
Michael chuckled, and the camera picked up a twinkle of genuine amusement in his eyes. ‘With five children spread over twenty-five years?’
‘You’re a Catholic. A large family is normal.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake, Gran. Luongo’s been well-briefed. Michael should have ignored the suggestion about an Italian singer, not repeated what his theatrical agent said.
‘My wife and I are both Catholics.’ Michael smiled. ‘There are approved methods of contraception, but a big family was Elspeth’s choice. She’s an only child and rather envied me my brother and sister and all my nephews and nieces.’
He only had one male cousin: it took the emphasis off nieces, and Luongo hadn’t expected a lecture on contraception. It sounded as if he might get one unless he changed the subject. What would he think of next?
The presenter wasn’t given time to think. Lisette coughed. Michael reached for a glass of water the man had failed to offer, gave it to her, and attacked. ‘Lisette needed a rest after a long tour of South America. She offered to help me bring Kit’s music to Europe. Instead of welcoming her, you, Senor Luongo, have taken media stories as gospel truth, and they have come as close as they dare to accusing her of bearing my child. On what grounds?’
‘There was talk of a relationship between the two of you at the time.’
‘At what time, precisely?’
The man shuffled papers. ‘Nineteen years ago.’
‘Gossip based on nothing more than stage kisses when we played lovers in a musical.’
‘It was Miss Marsh’s first starring role, and she conveniently vanished.’
Michael’s blue eyes darkened. ‘Conveniently? Lisette was eighteen. How many girls of that age do you know who could have faced dozens of journalists night after night when they used every trick there is attempting to make her admit to something that wasn’t true?’
‘Did you advise her to drop her career to save your own? Your career and your liberty?’
Gran tensed beside him. It wasn’t her grandson annoying her now! ‘How long before the egotistical sensationalist uses the word incest?’
‘He may as well have done.’
Michael flushed. He leaned forward, and so did Gran; Luongo had made a mistake. Michael rarely lost his temper. He had now, but his answers were considered, and the actor in him was making his audience wait.
‘I backed Lisette’s decision to leave the West End production. She played the same part from its premiere on Broadway where the media could be trusted to refrain from attacking her.’
True or not that statement would help Kinloch if the wildlife reserve did survive. It mattered; he loved his life here – he’d forgotten how much he loved his elder sister until he saw her in the Paris concert. Bossy, protective, loving Lis.
Luongo turned on the softer target. ‘Lisette, during the months you spent in a retreat, reportedly recovering from the shock of a friend’s death, did you give birth to your father’s child?’ The presenter leaned across the table towards her. ‘You couldn’t have put it up for adoption, so where did you hide it? With your understanding mother?’
Michael looked at Luongo with anger laced with contempt. ‘The only children born in the family at that time were mine and Elspeth’s twins, Harriet and Kit. If it takes DNA tests to prove it, they will be done.’
‘Gran, it would show they weren’t twins.’
She poured more coffee, her hand steadier than usual. ‘After that offer, do you think anybody would think it worth pressing for DNA tests? James, the fuse was set to blow all the old scandal out into the open. Instead, Alberto Luongo has been forced to snuff it out.’
Gran had always loved Michael beyond the bounds of good sense, and she wasn’t the only one if the Carver sisters were an example.
Time ran out for Luongo. He closed the show with an introduction to the next edition and adverts filled the screen. Had Michael won and quashed the stories of incest?
An answer, of sorts, came from the journalists’ helicopter rising fast as if they had been tipped off the story was dead. Could Elspeth make a success of the televised concert? It was vital she did to confirm the family support for Kit. Michael had made it a strong argument: he hadn’t mentioned the coaching, which he remembered amounting to no more than instructions from Clement about how he wanted a song expressed, had come to an end long before his death twenty years ago.
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