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Happy Families

chapter 3.

Roy rapped on the door that joined his room to Hughes's. "What do you think, old man? Suit and tie?" he asked as he opened the door.

Hughes was midway through buttoning up his shirt. "Hard to say. Dressing for dinner is commonly expected but they definitely don't stand on ceremony here."

"Yes, they've made a point of that. For that matter, we don't even know when dinner is."

Roy's statement was punctuated by a knock at the door. Raising an eyebrow at him, Hughes called out "Come in."

Edward did not appear entirely happy to be there. "Father asked me to take you down to dinner and see if you had any questions. He also advised that a tie and jacket would be enough for dinner."

"Excellent. Thank you, Edward," Hughes began throwing clothes out of his suitcase in hunt of a tie. "I know I packed it—"

Roy's jacket was neatly folded over the back of his chair. He pulled it on, studying Edward thoughtfully as he did so. The boy was sitting in the chair by the end of the bed. He looked not wary now, but bored.

"You're studying Latin?" Roy found himself making conversation out of pity. "A full classical education then?"

"Yes," Edward looked surprised to find himself spoken to. "Although I'd much rather be studying Greek. But Mr. Tucker specialised in Latin so . . ." He shrugged.

"You don't have a scientific leaning then?" Roy was interested despite himself. "I imagine Latin would be useful for all the scientific names and that—"

"Oh yes, Latin's very useful for biology and medicine," Edward answered seriously and with obvious relish. "But what I want to know is how things began. What makes things happen."

"And for that you need Greek?"

"Archimedes, Pythagoras—they're famed as mathematicians but they did more. They were the first scientists, you know. And then there's Plato—"

"You obviously know your stuff," Hughes remarked, dumping the contents of his suitcase onto his bed and rifling through them. "But wouldn't it make more sense to read the works of more recent scientists?"

"Father says we're not allowed in his study," Edward said resentfully. "All we have is the library. Still, the Renaissance writers were all right. Some of them had good ideas. They believed that you should start with the Greeks. I've been teaching myself some Greek, and so far it's really interesting—"

His enthusiastic explanation was suddenly interrupted by a tweed jacket to his head.

"I can only find the crimson tie," Hughes fretted. "Surely Gracia didn't forget the navy—oh, my love, how could I say such a thing? My sweet would never make such a mistake—"

"Maes," Roy interrupted. "Put your crimson tie on before you make us late for dinner." He smiled as he helped Edward untangle himself from the jacket. "Forgive my friend, he's married."

"This is a common symptom of marriage then?" Edward smirked, and Roy was pleased to see that the boy did after all possess a sense of humour. There was still hope for him then.

"Not a common symptom, except where the sufferer is already in possession of a weak intellect—" Roy stopped suddenly, his attention arrested by a discoloured patch at Edward's wrist. He reached over to hold it up to the light. "That's an unusual place to have a bruise."

Edward tugged his hand away and retreated. He straightened his own jacket looking for all the world like a turtle retreating into its shell. "Not really," he said the wariness in his voice back full force. "I expect I caught it on something."

"In that case you'd expect the bruise to be on the outside of your wrist surely? I don't see how you'd managed to hit the inside—"

"I don't remember how it happened," Edward said shortly. "I think it's time we went downstairs." Without waiting for them to respond he walked out into the corridor.

"Well," Hughes remarked, fingers busy with the knot of his navy tie. "That was an interesting reaction."

"What was all this rigamarole in aid of?" Roy eyed the ‘missing' tie sourly. "If you knew where that thing was the entire time—"

"Would you have had the same opportunity to talk to Edward? We're investigating, Roy. If we want people to talk to us, we have to win them over first. You're much better than me at charming people so that is your role in this puzzle."

"I see," Roy held the door open for Hughes. "At least you acknowledge I'm good for something."

"You open doors, don't you?"

Edward was waiting at the head of the stairs, and he led them to the dining room without any further words. It was a grand room, its main feature a large oak table. Alphonse was already sitting there waiting, along with a thin, anemic looking man who stood and offered his hand as they approached.

"This is an unexpected honour," he said. "How do you do. I'm Shou Tucker, delighted to make your acquaintance. Really, this is most unexpected—"

Even if he hadn't known Tucker to be the boys's tutor, Roy would known him at once for a man who made a living by books. He had the paleness of one who seldom left a library, and matched this with the traditional disdain of a scholar for fashionable, or even, matching clothes. His dinner suit was obviously well worn.

Roy and Hughes made polite replies and Curtis opened the door to usher in the rest of the party.

Dinner would not make Roy's list of most entertaining dining experiences. Not only was there a distinct shortage of attractive and marriageable women, but discussion tended heavily towards the academic. Hughes had somehow ended up near Holmenheim who sat at the head of the table, Shezchka at his side, and Roy did not envy his friend. At least he could sort of follow the conversation that went on around him. Dante held forth on modern methods of education from the hostesses' seat at the end of the table. Tucker humbly agreed on her left, Edward and Alphonse sitting beside him. Roy sat next to Envy on Dante's right.

Since he couldn't follow the conversation, Roy concentrated instead on his dinner companions. Hughes and he had both agreed that there seemed to be no reason for Trisha Elric to be murdered, but they'd assumed that, as Marcoh had written, she had been a happy and contented wife and mother. They'd been in the Elric residence mere hours and already it was clear that this was not a happy family.

Dante was the most obvious reason for that. She was voicing, with great confidence in her judgement, the argument that her choice of educational system was clearly the best. Tucker was barely managing to put together a sentence in his defence.

"Many great thinkers were educated from home," Tucker was saying. "Think of—"

"But there is simply no way to teach social interaction, how to get along with one's peers, or any chance to make the social links that will be so useful in later life. A friend of mine is headmaster of a really modern boy's school in the South, apparently most satisfactory. It would be most advantageous for dear Alphonse—Don't you agree, Holmenheim?"

That ‘dear' was laying it on a bit thick, Roy thought, especially in light of her earlier comments about not having any time for children.

Holmenheim looked up from the other end of the table. "I'm sorry, Dante. I wasn't listening?"

Dante explained the school and her reasoning at length. Tucker fidgeted and Alphonse glared mutinously at Dante. He seemed on the point of interrupting several times but apparently thought the better of it. Edward picked at his food and waited.

"Thank your friend for the offer," Holmenheim replied. "But Alphonse will stay at home."

"And pass up such a great opportunity? Surely—"

"I have made my opinion on the matter clear," Holmenheim stated, calmly but firmly. "Unless both boys can attend, neither of them will leave this house."

That was clearly not the answer Dante wanted to hear. "And when the time comes for Alphonse to attend University, what will you do then? Surely you don't intend to deprive him of his own life just because his brother—"

"Dante, that is enough. We will speak no more on this subject." There was just a hint of warning in Holmenheim's voice. Dante subsided angrily. "By the time Alphonse is of an age to attend University, Edward will be of an age to make his own choices. Neither will be held back."

"Indeed," Tucker agreed suddenly. "If I may be so bold, I might say that I consider both of them able to attend any University they want. They have already far outstripped me mathematically, and they take after their father in the sciences." He fiddled nervously with his glasses. "In fact, I uh, took the liberty of sending a discourse Edward wrote to my former Physics Master for his opinion. I was very impressed by it and thought it merited examination by someone more expert in the field."

"Something Edward wrote?" Holmenheim looked down the table with an expression that looked, to Roy, curiously as though he were seeing his son for the first time. "Is that so."

Edward took this as permission to speak. "Al and I have been looking at the practical applications of aerodynamics."

"Aerodynamics?" Envy laughed. "Don't tell me the two of you are still working on that childish project—"

"It's not childish!" Alphonse replied immediately. "We've been doing a lot of research—"

Holmenheim held up his hand. "No quarreling at the dinner table, Alphonse. Now, why don't you tell me about this project?"

Edward explained in technical terms that had Roy quickly baffled. From the looks of things he wasn't the only one. Envy was yawning theatrically, Dante looked long suffering, and Tucker indulgent.

"You've certainly put a lot of effort into this," Holmenheim said. "What's your purpose with all this?" He had set aside his meal to listen closely.

Edward took a deep breath. "We want to design and build airplanes."

"You must know that's impossible," Dante said with patronising kindness. "Surely you realise that would take years of testing, of flight trials—and there's simply no way that you could ever pilot, Edward."

"I'll be the pilot," Alphonse said firmly. "We've got a codebook from an RAF pilot, and I already know most of it by heart. I should be able to get a pilot's license easily—"

"You'd need a plane first," Envy pointed out. "Or have you forgotten?"

"Even providing you had a test pilot, I'm afraid that there would be no chance of you being allowed to operate the sort of machinery used to build a plane. You must realise, Edward, that were you to have an episode while working—"

"I'll have Alphonse there, or someone else," Edward said firmly. "We'll think of a way around this."

"Be more polite when addressing an elder, Edward," Holmenheim said. "I'm sure you and your brother will figure something out. You certainly seem to have everything planned neatly."

Edward looked startled at this announcement, but Alphonse fairly glowed at the praise. "We will! We've been restoring the old car to practice."

"Restoring?"

"Ross showed us how to remove the engine," Alphonse explained happily. He was, as Holmenheim had described him, a child meant to be smiling. Roy couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm. "And we took it apart and cleaned it and we finished putting it back together last week. We're working on the rest of it now—"

"You don't mean the old wreck they pulled out of the river?" Holmenheim was surprised. "You've managed to restore the engine?"

Hughes spoke up suddenly. He'd been observing like Roy, allowing himself to fall into the background. "Now that is an accomplishment. I don't suppose I'd be allowed to take a look? I have a fondness for tinkering about with machines—"

"It would be very kind of you to take a look," Edward replied.

Alphonse looked hopefully at Holmenheim. "Father, do you think that—"

"I'll see if I have time tomorrow," Holmenheim said. "After we've wrapped up the experiments for the day."

By the way Alphonse's face fell this was clearly a ‘no.'

"We've been neglecting our guests," Dante announced sharply. "Come on, gentlemen, you must tell us all the news from London."

News from London managed to occupy the conversation until dessert was served.

"I must say I didn't expect to find a cook this capable in Lincolnshire," Hughes observed. "This pudding is divine! I must take the recipe back to my Gracia."

"I'm sure Mrs. Curtis won't mind giving you the recipe," Shezchka said. "She's lovely."

This was the first statement unconnected with the project that Shezchka had uttered all dinner. Roy had forgotten she was present and blinked at her, even as he tried to imagine the giant with a wife. She'd never fit in a kitchen, surely—

"She is good in the kitchen, undoubtedly," Dante agreed. "But in my view rather lax in her housekeeping. If this were my house—"

"Tell Curtis we'll have coffee in the drawing room." Holmenheim told the housemaid. "And ask him to send in some chocolate for the boys."

Alphonse brightened at this announcement. "We get to sit up?"

"Only if you're good," their Father cautioned. "Tucker, will you join us?"

"I'll come down later," the tutor said, flustered by the invitation. "I must put Nina to bed."

Dante's mouth was set in disapproval. "Are you sure that encouraging the boys to stay up is wise? Soon they'll expect it all the time."

Her habit of continually talking of the children as if they weren't present was really grating on Roy's nerves. She was not an unintelligent woman, surely she was aware of the effect her words might have. Yet she simply didn't care—

"It's just this once," Holmenheim said. "As we have visitors. The boys will behave, won't you?"

"Perfectly, father."

They did too, sitting around an easy table to the side of the room with the pieces of a model plane they were assembling. They didn't disrupt the conversation, demand attention or spill drinks at all. Model children, Roy thought, wandering over to see what they were working on.

"Is that a SPAD XIII?" he asked impressed. "I had no idea they were that well known out of the Corps."

"We found the specifics in a piloting magazine," Alphonse told him. "And the rest has been quite easy to construct. Mrs. Curtis let us cut up an old flour bag for the canvas, and we cut the wood ourselves—"

"It's a fragile looking thing, isn't it?" Envy asked, reaching over the table. "I can't imagine that people actually go up in these things—"

"Don't touch it!" Alphonse hastily reached out to stop him. "You'll break it—"

Their hands connected at the same time. There was a sharp snap.

"Sorry."

"Our plane!" Alphonse rounded on Envy angrily. "You did that on purpose!"

"It was an accident," Envy shrugged. "I said sorry."

"Al," Edward said quietly. "We can fix it."

"But—it's not fair!" Al turned to Holmenheim beseechingly. "Father, look what Envy did—"

"It was an accident, Alphonse. You should apologise to Envy."

"But—"

"Now."

Alphonse clutched the broken plane tightly. "Sorry," he mumbled in a voice so low it was barely distinct.

"That's better. Now, rejoin your brother. Edward will put it right."

Roy judged it best to leave the brothers time to regain their good mood. He turned back to the main group just in time to catch Envy's slow smirk—somehow he wasn't surprised that there had been no accident.

"You see," Dante said. "You need to take a firm hand with the boys."

"No harm done," Holmenheim shrugged. "Shezchka, do you want to put a gramaphone on? I quite fancy some Bach."

Hughes was studying the portrait hung over the fireplace. "What a splendid photo—this would be your late wife, I imagine?"

"Trisha," Holmenheim said. "Yes, it was taken while on our honeymoon."

His voice was carefully neutral—expressionless or hiding pain? With Holmenheim it was impossible to tell. Still, Roy reflected, glancing around the room, it was the only personal ornamentation in the entire room. A few nondescript landscape paintings hung on the walls, and there was the book case and gramaphone but nothing else. Holmenheim was clearly not a person who bothered with knick-knacks.

"She was a lovely woman," Shezchka said thoughtfully, holding a book on her lap. "Always kind. She made this house feel like a home—oh, I'm sorry! It's not my place to comment—" She hid hastily behind her book.

An unexpected statement from the quiet researcher. Hughes caught Roy's eye and waggled his eyebrows in an alarming manner—clearly Roy was meant to exert his masculine charms to find out more. Roy gave his friend a sour look. It would be like Hughes if this murder rigamarole turned out to be an elaborate plan to set him up with a suitable girl—

"Trisha was a kind woman," Dante said with distaste. "But you can't say she was an efficient house keeper or manager. Why, since I've been here, you wouldn't believe how much dear Holmenheim has saved in household costs."

It must be great indeed, Roy thought acidly, if it's enough to compell him to put up with you. He took the chair beside Shezchka. "You've been Holmenheim's research assistant some time then?"

"Oh, yes—it would be almost eight years now. I was barely out of school when I took this position and well, I've been here ever since."

"That long? You must be very dedicated to the project then. I imagine that most girls your age would find the country life very dull."

"Oh, but it's such interesting work! And, really, the chance to work alongside Professor Holmenheim—" Shezchka glanced up to see if anyone was paying attention to their conversation. As Envy was reading aloud from The Times, Holmenheim and Dante listening to him and making comments, and Hughes was busy helping the boys with their plane, she continued. "He really is a genius. A mind like his comes along only once or twice in a century—and the project we're working on has amazing potential. The professor believes he can harvest the power of the atoms—"

"Fascinating," Roy said hastily, hoping to forestall another barrage of scientific jargon. "So, the three of you work on project?"

"Well, it's really the Professor that does most of the work. He comes up with the theory and plans the experiments. I record the results, and help him carry them out. I'm not nearly clever enough to help with any of the actual theorising. All I'm good at is reading."

"I'm sure that's not true," Roy said pleasantly. "I'm sure Professor Holmenheim wouldn't have kept you on for so long if he didn't value your input."

"Well—my memory has helped out on more than one occasion," Shezchka admitted. "About three years ago a very important document went missing—the project might have been cancelled without it. I was able to recreate it from memory—I've always been good at remembering things I've read."

"Amazing." Roy was bored stupid. Hughes was going to pay for this. "And what does Mr. Envy contribute to the project?"

Shezchka looked startled. "Mr. Envy? Well, he's Holmenheim's secretary."

"Yes," Roy said. "But that doesn't tell me what he does."

"Oh, I see." Shezchka frowned thoughtfully. "Well, mostly he takes calls and messages on the Professor's behalf—so he's free to work on the project, you see. And he edits and proofs the Professor's manuscripts. He's preparing a new book on our findings—it's going to be revolutionary." Shezchka's eyes were shining behind her over-thick glasses. "A masterwork."

"But he doesn't actually take part in the experiments?"

"He helps out when we need another pair of hands, but Mr. Envy doesn't have a background in science. He's very clever, but the kind of work we do really requires an expert—"

"Such as Doctor Marcoh?"

"Yes, indeed. Doctor Marcoh is very clever in this field, and very kind. Not as brilliant perhaps as the Professor, but an astute researcher. I don't think there could be anyone more suitable than him to manage the project in London."

"Indeed." What the hell was he supposed to say to the girl now? May as well ask questions pertaining to the murder—"What was Mrs. Elric like?"

"Oh—Trisha?" Shezchka looked bewildered. "Why would you ask about her?"

Roy nodded in Holmenheim's direction. "Like you said he is a remarkable man. I can't help but wonder what sort of woman he would chose to marry."

"Well, Trisha wasn't what you'd expect. You'd think a man like him should have someone driven, someone that would devote herself to his work, share his vision," Shezchka took the wine glass Roy gave her unthinkingly. "The last person you'd have chosen was Trisha. She wasn't interested in science at all, except for how it affected Holmenheim, and she'd have been equally happy if he'd been a farmer or a lawyer, I think. She just loved him."

"And that was enough?"

"Oh, yes." Shezchka nodded. "I expect it sounds stupid but they were one of the happiest couples I've seen. He had his work, and she left him to it, bringing up the boys and supporting him as best she could—It was really very sweet to see them together. Very much the Victorian ideal of man and wife...of course, the Professor could get a bit distracted."

"I can imagine that," Roy agreed.

"Do you know, Trisha had to take a cab to her Doctor's when Edward was born? Holmenheim had looked himself in the attic to work on an experiment and didn't notice. He was really apologetic afterwards, of course, and when she was pregnant with Alphonse, he made sure there was a doctor in the house the entire time."

"Good heavens," Roy said. "And Trisha didn't complain?"

"Oh, no, she never complained. She understood."

"Understood?"

"Well, no matter how busy Holmenheim got with his work, she was his wife. She knew he loved her. That was all she needed."

"A remarkable woman," Roy murmured politely. "Still, I can't imagine the arrival of Lady Dante pleased her?"

Shezchka looked bewildered. "Lady Dante? What would she have to do with anything?"

"Well, what with her prior connections to Holmenheim...and her son . . ." Roy's vague hints were met with a blank stare. Shezchka was clearly not a keen observer of her fellow mankind.

Roy was saved an awkward explanation by a remark of Lady Dante's, loud enough to be heard throughout the drawing room. "Really, Edward! Be more careful! You might have upset that glass over me."

Edward retrieved the glass carefully. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I was reaching for the scissors—"

"There's no excuse for carelessness, young man. I think it's high time you learnt—"

"Go easy on him," Envy said, surprisingly. He touched his mother's arm as he joined the two of them. "Edward apologised, didn't he? If you ask me, he's looking a bit pale . . ."

Dante was instantly solicitious. "You'd better go and lie down, Edward. I'll have Lila take up your tonic."

"I'm fine, really," Edward protested.

"Best not to take chances," Envy patted his shoulder. "Come on, I'll take you upstairs."

"Oh, don't worry about it, Mr. Envy!" Alphonse latched onto his brother's arm with determined politeness. "I'll go with Edward. We have a Latin passage Mr. Tucker set us for study tomorrow. I can read it aloud while Ed rests."

"But you're having such a good time with your model plane—"

"I think," Edward said quietly. "That I would like Al to read to me. He has a soothing voice, and it's near our bedtime anyway."

"A good point," Dante approved. "Well, say goodnight to your father then, boys."

Roy watched the boys leave with bafflement. No one else present seemed to find it strange that Envy would show such sudden concern for his half-brother. Maybe he was reading too much into it.

"Poor Edward," Shezchka said. "And he was doing so well at dinner too."

Roy had completely forgotten about the girl. She'd opened her book, but she was looking at the door the boys had just departed through. "Does this happen often?"

Shezchka seemed confused by the question. "I suppose it must," she said vaguely. "We don't see much of the boys and Edward doesn't—well, make a show of it."

Roy thought about that.

"Dear Edward," Dante said, obviously for Holmenheim's sake. "Such a brave child. Much like his father in that respect. Such a pity—and he is the heir to this place too," she added, turning to Roy and Hughes. "Really very sad."

"The law of primogeniture?" Hughes whistled. "I'm surprised to find such a prosaic law in amongst such revolutionary people."

Holmenheim smiled faintly. "Society would contest any will I made that didn't leave the bulk of my estate to the boys," he said. "But I'm content that Edward should inherit the house. It was as much his mother's as it is mine, and I know I can trust him to see to his brother's wellbeing."

Roy could guess how well that went down with Envy and his imperious mother.

The conversation that followed was desultory at best, and Roy couldn't say that he was disappointed when Holmenheim set down the book he'd been reading and announced that he was retiring for the night.

"I'm afraid you'll find that early nights are rather the norm here, gentleman," He informed Roy and Hughes. "But when you're hard at work—"

"We quite understand," Hughes answered. "As a matter of fact, we had an early start this morning. I dare say it would do us well to turn in now." What he really meant is that he wanted to talk to Roy.

"Quite good going for the first day, I think," Hughes said, leaning in the doorway that connected their bedrooms as he undid his tie and dinner jacket. "We've learnt a lot."

"Really?" Roy was not as impressed. "Please enlighten me then. I must have missed it."

"Roy," Maes said fondly. "Really, you can't expect a clue to put out it's hand and introduce itself to you." He carelessly let his jacket slide to the floor. "Let's review what we've learnt, shall we? As far as I see it we now have two suspects."

"The husband or the mistress? I suppose Holmenheim is the most likely. If his wife had found out about his affair—"

"It's a possibility," Hughes acknowledged. "Although...I rather get the impression that Dante isn't his mistress at all."

"But you've seen the way she acts around him—"

"Rather too zealous, even for such a revolutionary personage as herself, don't you think, old chap? I think she's staking her claim—trying to convince old Holmenheim that she's what's best for him."

"And he's not buying it? Why doesn't he just toss her out then?"

"I suspect that's where the son comes into it. An old flame is one thing, your own child quite another...and Holmenheim seems to take familial duties seriously in theory, even if in practice he leaves something lacking—"

"Not the world's greatest father, is he?" Roy said opening the wardrobe to put his dinner jacket away. "The boys seem to have the worst side of this whole mess—" he trailed off in some surprise. There was an extra pair of shoes in his wardrobe. Attached to them was an extra pair of legs that travelled up and ended amongst Roy's smoking jacket.

"What the blazes do you think you're doing in my wardrobe?" Roy demanded of the legs.

"I'm terribly sorry," the owner of the legs said, pushing the smoking jacket aside to blink up at Roy, his round face radiating great earnestness. "You see, I thought this was the Brigadier's room."

"Is that so," Hughes leaned on the wardrobe door. "And what business did you have in mind with my wardrobe, then?"

"I have to talk with you," Alphonse said seriously. "You see, I know who did the murder."